LAVERKIN – The rain did not dampen the spirits of those in attendance at the first LaVerkin Founders Day Celebration, Saturday. In fact, some attendees, including LaVerkin City Administrator Kyle Gubler, said the rain was fitting because the city’s founders always prayed for it.
“They wouldn’t complain a bit about it and the show would go on,” Gubler said of the forebears’ probable attitude towards the moisture.
Founders Day included a free breakfast, a safety fair and children’s activities at the city park, a softball game, a soapbox derby, historical displays and even homemade ice cream. It coincided with the “Grand Opening” of the Best Western Plus Zion West Hotel, 44 W. 500 North in La Verkin.
“We just decided the city needs more events like this,” Gubler said of why the Founders Day event was inaugurated. “It builds public morale. It makes people feel good.”
The flagship event of the day was a program honoring the city’s heritage and the event’s first honoree, Ardella Gubler Duncan Heiner, who is the daughter of Henry and Susanna Gubler, one of the city’s founding couples.
Few towns still have a daughter of one their founders, LaVerkin Mayor Kerry Gubler said in his remarks during the program.
Ardella Heiner’s daughter Jeanette Benson spoke during the program. Heiner, born in 1919, was the youngest of 12 children, Benson said, and she said she had so many bosses she should have turned out perfect. Ardella Heiner married her high school sweetheart, Willard Duncan, in 1939, and they had two children, Leon and Jeanette. Duncan was killed in 1945 serving in Germany in World War II.
“She faced this tragedy with deep faith, moving forward with the difficult task of being both mother and father to her children,” Benson said.
An elementary teacher by trade, teaching first through fourth grades throughout her long career, Ardella Heiner constantly ran into former students thrilled to see their favorite teacher, Benson said. She married Lawrence Heiner in 1973. Her son Leon died in 1987 and Lawrence Heiner died two years later. Ardella Heiner will turn 96 next month.
“At her age, she is the wonder of all who know her,” Benson said of her mother. “She mows lawns on her tractor mower, sleeps upstairs because she feels the stairs are her therapy, drives around her two acres in her golf cart fixing taps, planting and tending vegetables, flowers and much more.”
After she graduated from Brigham Young University in 1950, Ardella Heiner had many offers to teach elsewhere, but she decided to return to LaVerkin and said her children thanked her 100 times for that decision. She said she has been in LaVerkin ever since and couldn’t imagine herself anywhere else.
When asked how it felt to receive the honor, Ardella Heiner was modest, saying she didn’t deserve it.
“It’s kind of embarrassing.” she said. “I’ve never been one to brag about myself. Everyone coaxed me to come to this. I don’t feel I’m an important part of this town.”
Ardella Heiner admitted that one of the draws of coming to the program was meeting its keynote speaker, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
“It’s great to be here at the LaVerkin family reunion,” Herbert said as he opened his remarks. “What a wonderful community.”
The city’s founders had persistence, vision and work ethic to live in “a place not a lot of people wanted” and turn it into their own Garden of Eden, he said, saying the story of LaVerkin’s founding is a microcosm of Utah’s founding and one of the things that makes Utah great.
The governor went on to tell a story about a recent meeting with a group from the Pew Research Center, which studies attitudes toward public policy. He told them why Utah’s economy is doing so well, he said; they came to the conclusion that it was Utah’s people – who are charitable and have a spirit of volunteerism.
Herbert also mentioned a recent meeting with other governors in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama in which Vice President Joe Biden told him how impressed he is with Utah and what an excellent economic example it is to other states. When other governors came to Salt Lake City for a governors’ conference, he said many of them were astounded at how extra-friendly Utahns are. Some governors told their wives they need to come to Utah because of the nice people here, he said.
The governor ended his remarks by commending Ardella Heiner on her good example to the community, saying she has a great attitude. He also told the audience to work together and ask themselves how they can make their community better.
“We all have the opportunity to make the trail better for those who come behind us,” Herbert said. “Work will work when wishy washy wishing won’t.”
“We all stand on the shoulders of giants,” the governor said, in the same breath encouraging those in attendance to remember those who have gone before, take the opportunity to reflect and make the path smoother for those who come in the future.
The advice Ardella Heiner said she’d give others is: “Love your neighbors and the people around you and do what you can to make your town special.”
From now on, Kyle Gubler said, Founders Day will be an ongoing event; but starting next year, it will take place on the third Saturday in March.
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