When Brigham Young University President Cecil O. Samuelson announced in 2005 that the board of trustees had authorized fundraising for the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center, he said, "It will be a hallmark building that will identify clearly what BYU means to the kingdom-the history and story of BYU-but also its place within the Restoration. It will be a magnet for our alumni, our students, their families, and our friends and visitors who will come to our beautiful campus."
It's been three years since the Hinckley Center opened, time enough to see if the facility is living up to President Samuelson's expectations.
Who would know? Linda Thomas would. She's basically the boss of the building.
Linda told me that upwards of 20,000 visitors have come through the Hinckley Center to begin formal tours of campus, while thousands more have come for less formal visits. And they've come from all over the world — from Europe, Asia, Africa, the islands of the Pacific, and Central and South America.
Linda also reported that the Hinckley Center hosted 1,500 events last year and about the same number the year before. "It's definitely become a destination," she said.
Ron Clark agreed. Ron is BYU's director of public affairs and guest relations and has an office in the Hinckley Center. I asked him, "Is the facility the magnet that President Samuelson foresaw?"
"Rick," he replied, "the Hinckley Center is the front gate to campus. It's been wonderful. The world is coming here. We have church members and friends of other faiths come into this building every day. They exclaim, 'Oh, what a wonderful experience. What an interesting and wonderful man President Hinckley must have been.'"
Continuing, Ron said, "The very first thing that our guests see when they enter the visitor center is the face of the Master. And they see this boy, Joseph Smith, kneeling on the ground praying. We can tell the story now with such love and with such a feeling of peace that's in this building. It goes into the soul of individuals and touches them. I am convinced that it happens to every man, woman and child who comes into this building."
Ron has the privilege of hosting dignitaries from all over the world. His head is filled with hundreds of stories, but space allows me to share only this.
"One day we brought an ambassador from the Middle East and his wife into the Hinckley Center. They toured the building and then took a tour of campus. At the end of the day, we had time to very casually bring this couple back into the building. As we were saying goodbye to them, just before escorting them to their car to take them to the airport, the ambassador's wife said, 'I wish our people lived like this.' Then she looked at her husband and said, 'Why do you think it is that we can't have similar unity? Why can't we feel like this all the time?' And he said, 'It's because they live their religion.' With that, they said their goodbyes. Hugs and kisses on the cheek were expressed and away they went."
Next time you're near the Brigham Young University campus, come tour the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center — and see what President Samuelson saw.