Joel Lambert Priest was involved in our Rotary Club even before it became a Rotary Club. He was the Secretary of the group of men which conceived the idea of a Boise club and which applied for charter. And after the Club was officially formed, he became a member of the first board and served on the entertainment committee.
Joel was born in Henderson, Kentucky in 1870, and that is where he got his first reporting job with the local newspaper. He moved to Chicago in 1892 where he worked for both the Chicago City Press and the Chicago Record, covering events such as the Chicago World’s Fair. He then traveled west to the Salt Lake Herald in 1898 where he served successively as reporter, city editor, managing editor, dramatic critic, and editorial writer over the span of ten years. That was an interesting time in history, where he reported on events as diverse as the return of Utah troops from the Phillipines after the Spanish-American war, the Democratic National Convention in Kansas City in 1900, and the San Francisco disaster of 1906.
Joel left newspaper work at the age of 38 to move his family to Boise where he became the industrial agent for the Oregon Short Line Railroad which later became part of Union Pacific. His job was to “get in close touch with the rapid, industrial development of Idaho for the purpose of supplying information regarding the resources of the state to potential settlers and others.”
I think I would have liked his job because it seemed to involve a lot of interesting travel, as reported in the Idaho Statesman archives. Joel went to the Chicago Exposition in 1909, spent a month visiting the Pacific Coast in 1911, visited California in 1913 while San Francisco and San Diego were preparing for the 1915 Expositions, and then returned to California in 1915 to participate in those Expositions. In 1916 he met with the Governors of Oregon and Washington in an effort to promote cooperation of the states on matters of irrigation, fruit marketing and range issues – and was able to stop for the Pendleton Roundup on his way back to Boise. He also attended two games of the World Series in 1917 while enroute to North Carolina with the 2nd Idaho Regiment as they were preparing to join the war effort, followed by a stop in New York City where he saw the Sousa Marching Band in a Red Cross Women’s Parade. And the list goes on.
Joel became known in the intermountain west as a master of ceremonies, toastmaster and raconteur. He was characterized as the man who knew more people in Idaho by their first names and could call every one of them a friend. In 1938 the Statesman reported that “justly or unjustly, Mr. Priest’s Union Pacific isn’t always in favor with all the people all the time. But Mr. Priest is, well not Mr. Priest – he’s “Joel” even to those who are fighting the hardest to obtain lower freight rates and things like that.”
Joel’s sense of humor was widely noted. In 1947 the Statesman included an article called “A Pig Tale” which read:
They say Idaho’s premier tale-teller, Joel Priest, Sr. was stopped cold only once. Speaking at a Kiwanis luncheon Joel told of visiting in Blackfoot and admiring a litter of suckling pigs. “MMMM”, he said, “roast a suckling pig with an apple in its mouth….nothing better.” Naturally the pig owner offered to send a suckling to Boise for Joel. Six or eight months later, Joel received a call from the freight office – “Say, Mr. Priest, You’d better come right down. Somebody’s sent you a pig.”
Joel was mightily pleased. Hurried right down to the office, his mind full of visions of a delectable suckling pig. But when he arrived, there was no suckling pig…there was a huge 500-pound porker!
At this point in the story, Ike Wescott spoke up with the punch line that stopped Joel right in his tracks:
“Shucks, Joel, it probably was a suckling pig when it started out. But your freight line is so blamed slow, the pig grew up en route.”
Apparently that was one of the rare times Joel was lacking in a quick come-back.
In spite of the plethora of travel and other activities, Joel remained active in Rotary. He often acted as master of ceremonies for events including the 1919 District meeting in Salt Lake and many of the Rotary Ladies’ Nights. He participated in the Missoula District Conference in 1922, joined a dozen other Rotarians traveling to Pocatello in 1923 to become better acquainted with members of that Club, and participated in a meeting in Gooding in 1926 extending an invitation to the District Conference which was to be held in Boise the following year. Joel was elected President of our club in 1940, but only served a portion of his term. When he retired from Union Pacific on his 70th birthday in September of 1940, he resigned his presidency so that he and his wife could travel extensively.
Joel Priest was married and had one daughter & two sons. He spent his final years in Boise and in Salt Lake where he died in 1951 at the age of 81. Truly another outstanding Rotarian in our long and storied history.
By Marcia Wing, presented March 3rd, 2016