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The City Journals

Regional Park Renamed After Lifelong Taylorsville Resident

Aug 04, 2016 02:58PM ● By Tori LaRue

Members of the Swensen family hold the green ceremonial ribbon as Gary Swensen gets ready to cut it, symbolizing the official renaming of the park from Valley Regional Park to the Gary C. Swensen Valley Regional Park. In the past, Gary worked as Salt Lake County's land acquisitioner and superintendent and director of parks and recreation, so community members voted to name the county's park in Taylorsville after him. –Taylorsville City

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

Taylorsville, Utah - When Gary Swensen was the Salt Lake County land acquisitioner more than 50 years ago, the regional park in Taylorsville took his time, but it wasn’t until this past June 22that it took his name.

The park, at 5100 South 2700 West, was the first piece of property Swensen acquired for the county. Later, he became the superintendent and director of the parks and recreation department where he worked for 27 years, providing spaces for community recreation.

“While involved in the county, I was responsible for all the parks and recreation—that was part of my work,” Brent Overson, former county commissioner, said. “The more I learned about the history of Parks and recreation, the more I learned that Gary was a significant part right from the get-go. He’s just a wonderful guy, and I thought, ‘I think we should name something after him.’”

Overson began speaking with members of the Taylorsville City Council—of which his wife Kristie is part– and the county council about renaming the park. Public hearings about the renaming were held at the city and county level last year where there was “no opposition to the idea,” Overson said. Community members kept the renaming secret from Swensen while the parks and recreation department began designing and constructing new signs for the park. As they got nearer to completion, Swensen’s sons broke the news to him on a weekday afternoon.

“We sat down and made small talk, and then Christopher said ‘Dad, we usually take our family and go out to Copperton park on the Fourth or 24th of July, and we’ve kind of been thinking: it’s a long way out there, Swensen said. “What do you say if we stayed a little closer to home, and maybe went to South Jordan Park or maybe go to Gary Swensen Park?’” Swensen recounted. “I’ve tried myself on never being surprised, but that was a surprise.”

A few months later on June 22, Swensen attended the renaming ceremony and ribbon cutting with his family—consisting of four children, 13 grandchildren and two great grandchildren—and about 100 community members. Kristie Overson and Aimee Newton, a county council member whose grandfather and father befriended Swensen, spoke at the event. Swensen’s grandchildren raised a thick, green ceremonial ribbon in front of the new sign, and the 78-year-old honoree cut it, signifying the official renaming of the Valley Regional Park to the Gary C. Swensen Valley Regional Park.

“I originally wanted to rename the Taylorsville Recreation Center after him, but Aimee (Newton) said that it was more of a Taylorsville icon, and she suggested naming the park,” Overson said.

It wasn’t until they were already in the process of trying to get the renaming approved that they realized the park was the first piece of land Swensen had acquired for the county.

“It was so ironic,” Overson said. “His sons told us later that we couldn’t have picked a better naming.”

In addition to being the superintendent for the parks and recreation department, Swensen served on the Granite School Board for 16 years and was appointed to the state school board by former Governor Olene Walker. He coached his sons’ sports teams at the East Millcreek Gym, was a competitive bowler and competed in volleyball tournaments until he reached age 53.

One of his favorite memories of volleyball was coaching the 1970 all-church championship volleyball team made up of teenagers from the LDS Taylorsville first ward, he said. Somehow his enthusiasm motivated the team members to get to early-morning Saturday practices and evening Wednesday practices until they were skilled enough to win the competition, Swensen explained at the name changing ceremony.

Swensen believes he is deeply tied to the community because he’s lived in Taylorsville for 75 years—his entire life besides three years in which he resided in California while he was serving a religious mission, he said.

Through his experiences as a coach and superintendent, Swensen influenced people who have become significant members of the local community, Overson said, citing Mike Peterson, who’s currently a Cottonwood Heights city council member; Kelly Maxfield, an executive at Questar; and Rick Hall, former managing editor of the Deseret News, as examples.

Swensen said he was overwhelmed by the kind words of the community members who attended the renaming ceremony.

“It is truly an honor,” he said. “If I would have had my way when I was land acquisition coordinator for Salt Lake County, this park would have been almost twice its size, but it still turned out to be a beautiful park.”