Jacob Spori was the first principal of the Bannock Stake Academy in Rexburg, Idaho. The academy expanded and grew and was renamed several times. It is now known as Brigham Young University–Idaho.
Spori was born on March 26, 1847, in Oberwyl (Oberwill), Switzerland. His came from a long line of school teachers and professors. He loved books and entered high school at age thirteen. He graduated from college with degrees in mathematics and in arts and music. At age 28, he married Magdalena Roschi, who was also from Oberwyl, and became a high school principal and auditor, assessor, and treasurer of Canton Bern. He served in the Reformed Church's Synod Council, but resigned his seat due to disagreements with the church’s leaders. In 1877, he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and consequently lost his job and county offices. His father-in-law took Jacob’s wife, who had not joined the Church, and their four children away from him.
In 1879, Spori left Switzerland and settled in Logan, Utah. He studied English and Church history, worked in sawmills, and laid railroad track. And he wrote letters to his wife and children. He served as a full-time missionary to Turkey and Palestine from 1884 to 1887. Although Orson Hyde had dedicated the land of Palestine in 1841 for missionary work, Spori was the first missionary called to that country. He had an aptitude with languages (he was fluent in German, French, and English), and he taught himself Turkish. He performed the first baptism in Palestine for the Church when he baptized Johan George Grau on August 29, 1886. Besides serving in Istanbul, he taught in Joppa, Damascus, and Jerusalem.
Throughout his mission, he wrote to his wife and taught her about the Church and the gospel. She was especially open to the teachings of the Church when their eldest daughter had died from injuries she received from a fall. When Spori completed his mission, he returned to Switzerland. He fulfilled an assignment from Church president Wilford Woodruff to help organize a group of Saints for their immigration to Zion, which took about one year. He also translated several Church tracts into French with the help of his sister Anna Clara. His wife had been baptized and in June 1888, he and his wife, three children, and his sister left for America.
The Spori family went to Rexburg, Idaho, where Jacob had been called to be the first principal of Bannock Academy. Their fifth and sixth children (daughters) was born there. During his four-year service, he also supported the academy financially. He then farmed and began a water project by developing a canal that helped agriculture in the area. The Spori Canal on the Egin Bench is named for him. He also went back to teaching.
After the death of another one of his daughters, Jacob moved his family from Rexburg to the Bear Lake area where he was the principal of the Bear Lake Academy from 1893 to 1895. The last years of his life he devoted to mining interests. He taught school in the mining districts of southern Idaho. He also earned a degree in metallurgy.
His wife died suddenly in 1900 and he passed away in 1903, at the age of 56. He had diabetes for years and his doctor wanted him to rest more, but he taught school just two days prior to his passing. He had told his doctor that he would rather “die working than die resting.”