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BYU faculty member builds Salt Lake Temple out of 35,000 Legos in nine years

Editor's note: This piece by Katie Pitts Olson originally appeared in the Marriott Alumni Magazine. Click here to view it on the publication's website.

When we asked for a Marriott School of Management faculty member with unusual hobbies, the ROTC sent us straight to recruiting and operations officer Dave Jungheim. As it turns out, building the Salt Lake Temple out of more than 35,000 Lego bricks can get you noticed.

While that’s what Jungheim did, it wasn’t for attention as much as it was a pursuit of creativity — and to please his wife. Jungheim, like many, rekindled his childhood love of Legos as an adult. While in flight school in 2002, his pieces were all gears and pneumatics for engineering robots. Then his wife, Catherine, suggested he try something different and build the Salt Lake Temple. Knowing the scale and the cost of such a project, his initial reaction was disbelieving: “This is not something we’re ever going to build.”

After Catherine persisted, Jungheim scrapped together a fifth of one tower over a Labor Day weekend to prove the task impossible. Knowing it could cost thousands of dollars, she took one look at the yellow-brick hodgepodge and asked when he could start.

Thus began a nine-year quest of planning, tracking down pieces, building and rebuilding. Jungheim endured the pressure of flight school by spending Sunday meetings scribbling schematics on graph paper — a process of prototyping that alone consumed about two years. It was the last top spire that proved the most time consuming.

“Eventually I had to get out a scroll saw and cut it at those angles. It finishes it off, so it has to look good,” Jungheim says of the only custom Lego pieces on the temple. “Otherwise there’s no way. I tried every possible Lego piece! It took me two years to figure that one out.”

The completed temple stands 6 feet tall in its maple wood case, which was all hand-crafted by Jungheim.

“I took woodworking in high school because they didn’t have Lego-making,” he jokes.

The surroundings of the temple include all the trimmings as well as a few surprises, like a garden gnome in the flower bed. Standing in for Angel Moroni is a gold-painted Obi- Wan Kenobi. You may spot a Princess Leia headed to the temple, but Jungheim assured us this woman is simply German.

In fact, Jungheim credits his own German heritage for his love of Legos. At age 9, he emigrated from Germany, where Legos are even more popular than in the States. He returned to Germany for his mission and holds a BA in German from BYU. Besides building Lego robots and temples, he’s created a model train — a tribute to Europe’s railways — that sits in his office on campus.

Despite spending hours with blocks, Jungheim is a fierce, fourth-generation military man, with 21 years of service in the National Guard, including a year-deployment to Afghanistan. At BYU he’s overseen a range of ROTC programs, most recently managing the physical fitness program and teaching the freshman fundamentals class. Once a week, he’s off campus flying Apache helicopters with the Guard. He completed his MBA through the Marriott School in 2013.

Occasionally he gets a good-natured ribbing from his colleagues about his hobbies: one interrupted our interview with a chorus of "The Lego Movie’s" “Everything is Awesome!,” and another confessed to cow-tipping along the model train tracks. It’s all compliments beneath the teasing though. As one associate remarked, “Jungheim could build a nuclear weapon out of a Dixie cup and string.” We imagine he’d throw in a few Legos too.