Rexburg Mayor Jerry Merrill and BYU-Idaho, are working together to create events and activities in order to unite university students and the local Rexburg community.
Merrill said he personally sat down with President Clark G. Gilbert and his staff to discuss the ways Rexburg and BYU-I can work together to achieve the goal of uniting the city. Mayor Merrill also talked to several students about getting involved in city events every semester.
The mayor said he first felt the desire to bridge the gap between the communities when participating in a local mud run, where a few college students invited him to run with them. He thanked them for the invitation by inviting them to Sunday dinner and getting to know them.
“My theory is if you say ‘college kids,’ it’s just a group that you don’t really know, but … if you take the opportunity to get to know some of them, then you see them as good people and kinda like your own kids,” Merrill said.
Brett Sampson, university public affairs director at BYU-I, said he thinks it is important for BYU-I students to remember that the locals of Rexburg are the students’ neighbors.
Sampson said the school is working on making sure students have information about things to do in the area.
“I think students just need to decide what’s fun, and see the many options that there are, not only on campus but locally,” Sampson said.
Merrill said he hopes that by working to bring the communities together, both sides will come to have a greater appreciation for one another.
“We need to interact more,” Merrill said. “Most universities have sports teams, and that’s when the communities come together and when they interact. Since we don’t have that, we need to think of other ways to kinda come together. And I think the way we do that is activities and events that we do together.”
Sampson said both parties benefit from coming together and working together to make Rexburg a better place.
“There are only benefits to the local community and the campus community being bridged,” Sampson said. “We are neighbors. We work together; we worship together; we live together; we shop together. So the more we can do together, the better it will be.”
The city has different festivals throughout the year. The Heritage Festival was held this semester on Sept. 23-24. Those in attendance heard from Merrill and President Gilbert, ate potatoes, participate in a chili cook-off and more.
During the winter, students are invited to participate in the city’s annual SnowFest.
“We have our SnowFest that’s at Smith Park,” Merrill said. “We usually have all sorts of winter games and activities. We have a snowball throwing area, and we have some horses with wagons that do hayrides around the park.”
The mayor said the highlight of the SnowFest is the Polar Bear Plunge, where people jump into a freezing pool of water with snow floating on the top. The mayor and his grandson participated in the Polar Bear Plunge last year.
During the spring, the city holds its SummerFest. Performers from other countries participate in performances specific to their regions according to idahosummerfest.com.
Merrill said another idea he would love to accomplish would be to work with BYU-I on STEM education. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
“We’re hoping to put together a STEM education center,” Merrill said. “We’re hoping to collaborate with the school to find a building or build a building where a lot of the university students studying those things can come teach kids and help get them interested in it.”