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The Road Less Traveled: Tooele County has historical monuments and sites that are lesser-known

This piece originally appeared in the July 25, 2013 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.

It seems like a strange place for a fort—at least in modern context.  Today, the large crop field off Erda’s Liddell Lane is populated only by alfalfa, a sprinkling system, and an odd but unassuming clump of weeds.  And yet there’s no mistaking the monument, a tall black sign planted across the road at the edge of an immense cornfield. It identifies the wheat field as the former location of Bates Fort—the original site of Erda’s settlement.

“The terrain down there is completely different now,” explained Joe Liddell, a third-generation descendent of the settlement’s namesake, pioneer Ormus Ephraim Bates.  “In pioneer days there were a couple dozen springs in a square mile belt.”

It was Liddell who placed the sign marking Bates Fort in June of last year.  Last Friday morning, he pointed toward the odd clump of weeds and explained that when the Bates family settled here 161 years ago, the spot was at the center of a lush convergence of artesian springs—dubbed “Tule Springs”—that dominated the landscape.  Suddenly, the reasons for the Bates settling in this place become clearer.  

When most Tooele Valley locals think of their pioneer forebears, places like the Tooele Pioneer Museum and the Benson Grist Mill immediately come to mind.  But the Bates Fort sign, which was placed and dedicated just last year, is one of numerous lesser-known memorials to the pioneer era that pepper the valley floor.  This article highlights several of these lesser-known sites in the valley with a focus on sites that are either publically accessible or viewable from surface streets.  

Settlement of Tooele County began in 1849 at E.T. City (modern Lake Point area) and Tooele (then spelled “Tuilla”).  These early communities were followed in 1852 by Bates Fort (later Batesville, then Erda) and Grantsville. 

Along with the natural landscapes of these areas, relations between settlers and native Goshute Indians are key to understanding the development of these early communities.  While Mormon relations with native populations were generally positive, occasional skirmishes with local Goshutes in the early 1850’s prompted settlers to “fort up.” This was done, according to Liddell, by consolidating houses close to each other to form a structural barricade.  As settlements expanded, tall mud walls were constructed around their perimeters.  

Bates Fort is the first stop on our tour of lesser-known monuments.   Built in 1852, the wall at Bates Fort was Tooele Valley’s first. The 12 foot barrier was fashioned by pouring clay into wooden forms.  The result was a sharply sloped pyramid with a two 2 foot base and a 1 foot tip. The north wall was never built because it would have blocked a wide spring runoff.

“It was all done by hand and it took them some months to build,” Liddell said, “And it was all unnecessary.”

In fact, the walls around Tooele Valley settlements were quickly deemed unneeded, due in large part to the settlers heeding President Brigham Young’s counsel to feed the Indians rather than fight them.  Indian attacks declined sharply by 1854, and no more walls were built. The clay from Bates Fort’s wall was later used to bank two of the springs. Traces of it are still visible at the spring sites, which are located on private property.

No physical evidence of Tooele’s mud wall remains, but a replica segment of the barrier at the corner of 1st West and Vine gives visitors an idea of how these walls looked.  The replica and an adjacent stone monument were erected by the Settlement Canyon Chapter of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers (SUP) in 2009.  This is the second stop on our tour.  

Built in 1854, Tooele’s mud wall enclosed the four block settlement between 1st West, 1st East, 1st South and 1st North.  The northwest section of the wall was never completed.  

In a letter to the Deseret News published on December 11, 1854, Tooele resident Alexander Gee proudly describes the half-finished wall as “substantial and handsome as any I have seen in all the settlements I have ever visited.” 

Natural landmarks also played a significant role in Tooele Valley history.  Adobe Rock in Lake Point is perhaps the most recognizable of these, but what’s less well known is the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers marker fastened to its west face.  This is our third stop.  

The rock itself stands behind a fence on Rio Tinto property, but unpaved pullouts north and south of it along SR-36 afford excellent views.  The DUP plaque reads thus:

“On July 27, 1847, three horsemen from the scouting party sent out by Brigham Young, obtained an excellent view of the surrounding valley from the top of this rock. In 1849, Captain Howard Stansbury of the United States Topographical Engineers, built a small adobe house by this rock for his herders, hence the name “Adobe Rock.” The nearby highway follows the same route as the old pioneer trail used by explorers, trappers, emigrants and gold seekers. A spring nearby made this a favorite camp site.”

According to History of Tooele County, published by the DUP in 2012, settlers would meet visiting dignitaries at the limestone pillar and signal their arrival to their respective communities with flags or fire.  

We now south toward the economic hub of Richville, located in modern Stansbury Park.  This area is best known for the meticulously preserved Benson Grist Mill complex and pioneer-era homes.  But the historic significance of the large, spring-fed pond immediately south of the mill is often overlooked.  Prior to construction of the grist mill in 1854, the springs that fed the Millpond (then called Twin Springs Creek) formed a loose body of water that flowed freely toward the Great Salt Lake.  

Twin Springs’ importance to immigrants pre-dates the settlement of Richville.  Early immigrants camped at the springs. Period maps aerial photography from the 1950’s suggest that the famous Hastings Cutoff trail ran right along what is now Stansbury Parkway.  A railpost marker at the southeast end of the pond marks the spot where one of the parties camped in 1850.

The creek was dammed to power the grist mill and nearby operations, forming a roughly 30 acre pond.  The Millpond became a place for gathering, fishing, and performing LDS baptisms. It remains a recreational hot spot to present day.

The last stop on our tour memorializes one of Tooele County’s most unique and fascinating figures.  Hilda Anderson was born in Sweden in 1859. She was just 7 years old when she crossed the plains with her mother and two brothers.  She spent her early adulthood in the Deep Creek/Ibapah area caring for the sick with her husband, John Erickson. They later moved to Grantsville, where they built a small bungalow that still stands at 247 West Main Street.  

Hilda Erickson was known for her industrious character and her diverse resume.  She was a tailor, a licensed midwife, and merchant. She also dabbled in general medicine and dentistry.  But what Hilda was best known for was her longevity. In 1964, at the age of 104, she was recognized as Utah’s last pioneer, having outlived all of the approximately 80,000 Mormon pioneers who trekked to Utah prior to the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.  She died in 1968 at the age of 108.

Hilda was said to have boasted about traveling by ox team, mule team, buggy, wagon, bicycle, car, and airplane.

Joe Liddell, 90, knew Hilda well, having written annual feature stories about her in the Deseret News for nearly 20 years.  

“When she was 105 years old, asked her what she missed the most,” Liddell recalled.  “She said in her Swedish accent, ‘Well, I miss having a man around the house.’ The headline read ‘105 and wants a man.’”

Asked to describe Utah’s last pioneer, Liddell said Hilda was “very agreeable, but quite firm in her opinions.  She was quite a woman.”

Hilda Erickson’s life is memorialized by a life-sized bronze statue commissioned by the Sons of the Utah Pioneers.  The statue stands in front of Grantsville’s City Hall, and depicts Hilda riding side-saddle on a horse. Her story, like the fitted stone foundations and other adeptly fashioned structures in Tooele Valley, personifies an era of resourcefulness, independence, and grit—one worthy not just of celebration, but of deep exploration as well.

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Posted by on September 25, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Utah’s Sanctuary: New documentary about Great Salt Lake, Saltair

GSL Flyer (Facebook)Last summer I was contacted by BYU Broadcasting to provide commentary for a new documentary about Great Salt Lake and Saltair.  I had a wonderful time working with Director Rob Sibley and his crew, and I think the documentary turned out great.

The 54 minute piece, titled Great Salt Lake: Utah’s Sanctuary, covers the history, wildlife, art and recreation of Utah’s inland sea.  The recreation section is where I come in.  I discuss some of the lesser known, early resorts along the lake’s shores in addition to Saltair.  In addition to the commentary, the documentary features some rare film from the old days and some stunning aerial footage– all set to a masterful ambient soundtrack by composer Marden Pond.

The broadcast premiere was 12/6, with a repeat tonight (12/10) at 8:30 on KBYU 11.  For non-locals, I’m told it will be available on-demand later this month.  Check it out, and let me know what you think!

For vintage and modern photos of the Great Salt Lake and Saltair, like my Facebook Page  “Try to Sink.”  Then come back and enjoy some of my previous pieces on Saltair:

Ghost towns? How about a ghost resort?
Lakeside beach resort makes for a delightful summer outing
Old Saltair: Ruins are all that remain of “Coney Island of the West”
Saltair in flames: Video documents the ruin of famous Utah resort
Saltair’s spooky side shines in “Carnival of Souls”
So long, Saltair Train: Iconic rail car makes final departure from Saltair
The Beach Boys – Saltair Connection
UPDATED: The story behind those Beach Boys photos at Saltair
 
 

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About that giant Christmas Tree in the foothills above Tooele

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The Little Mountain Christmas Tree lights up in 2009. The tree has been a staple during the holiday season for the past 30 years. (Photo by Meagan Burr, Tooele Transcript Bulletin)

30 years ago, when Tooele residents Maxine Grimm and Paul Bevan teamed up to spread a little Christmas cheer, they never imagined that their homemade light display would become the valley’s most recognizable—and beloved—holiday symbol.

The 30 foot tall display known simply as “the Christmas Tree” became a wintertime staple. Thanks to volunteer efforts and generous donations from private companies, it has returned to its perch atop Little Mountain every year since. The tree’s current incarnation features 400 60 watt light bulbs strung taught from a cell tower. On clear nights, it can be seen as far north as I-80.

“There’s a story in everything,” said Grimm, 96, as she fondly recalled the project from her Tooele home. “I never dreamed I’d be a part of something that would be so inspirational.”

The Christmas Tree’s story began in 1979 when Grimm and Bevan set their sights on a flagpole on property owned by neighbor Doug Gordon. Positioned prominently atop the 5,515 foot Little Mountain,

the pole was visible from virtually anywhere in the valley. The friends had had flown Bevan’s 25 foot American flag from it on patriotic holidays. With a little work and some help from friends, they could transform the flagpole into a giant Christmas tree.

Bevan would take care of the technical legwork while Grimm, a longtime community service leader, would fund the project and handle public relations. Dugway Proving Grounds donated two large spools of electrical cable and Grimm talked her sister and several other friends into helping them wire the lights.

The work was done at night in the basement of Bevan’s father’s hardware store on Main Street, which is now occupied by the Sostanza restaurant. The friends laid strands of copper wire on long tables and spent long hours soldering patch cables every two feet.

“I think I was better at stripping the skin off my fingers than I was at stripping those copper wires,” Grimm laughed.

With the donated cable, the total cost for hardware—including Band-Aids—was about $500. They attached standard yellow bulbs and hauled their masterpiece to the top of Little Mountain, where they used the flagpole’s rope to raise the strands to the top. With the lights in place, it was time to breathe life into their giant Yuletide creation.

“When I finally threw switch, the lights came on like you couldn’t believe,” Bevan said. “It was brilliant.”

The brilliance lasted about a minute before things went horribly wrong.

“It was just like day, it was so bright,” Bevan said. “I was almost getting sunburned—and I was at the bottom of the hill!  Then all the sudden the bulbs started popping.”

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Two Tooele County Search and Rescue members set up lights on Little Mountain in Tooele in 1982. (Photo courtesy Tooele County Search and Rescue)

Bevan quickly cut the power, but only after losing a third of the bulbs. He later realized he had plugged the 110 volt cable into a 220 volt source. Though she laughs about it now, Grimm says there was no smile on her face that night.

“It was horrible. We were so exhausted and we thought all that work was gone,” she said.

But Grimm and crew persevered. A local electrician re-wired the timer box, pro bono, and Grimm bought new bulbs. The newly repaired tree was re-lit to the delight of the valley’s communities, and the new tradition was born. Grimm said many Tooele residents used the tree as a beacon—a sort of landlocked lighthouse—to find their way on stormy nights.

Bevan originally kept the light strands hanging loose so they swayed in the wind like a ball gown. He said the tree had a distinct golden glow that that inspired awe and regularly attracted curious visitors.

Once he was visited by a traveler from I-80 who was en route to Salt Lake City when the tree caught his eye.

“There were no other lights around it,” Bevan said. “It just hung up there, suspended in the blackness. The guy drove 15 miles from the freeway just to ask about it.”

The Christmas Tree was a hit, but Grimm and Bevan realized more manpower would be needed to keep the tradition alive. In 1981, Grimm successfully petitioned the Tooele County Search and Rescue team, and they have maintained the tree since.

“She could talk the socks off of anybody,” chuckled Bevan.

The process of setting up the tree has changed somewhat over the years for reasons of practicality. The flagpole was replaced by a Beehive Broadband cell tower in the same location, circa 2006. The Search and Rescue team tethered the light strands to steel cables and devised a pulley system that lifts them to the top. The strands are secured to the ground with chains, creating a taught cone shape with a 30 foot radius.

The volunteer organization meets every year before Thanksgiving to choreograph the maneuver and make any needed wiring repairs. They set up the tree on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and take it down again on the Saturday after New Year’s Day. The tree is lit every day at dusk and remains lit until 1:00 am. Tooele County foots the maintenance bill, while Beehive Broadband donates the power.

Maxine Grimm expressed a deep appreciation for the Search and Rescue team and all that have donated to the cause. Bevan, who has since relocated to Washington County, says the Christmas Tree was probably the most rewarding thing he’s ever been involved in. He plans to create a similar display with a mountainside flagpole he owns in St. George.

Grimm wants to someday place a star at the top of the tree, but hasn’t yet come up with a feasible idea.

“It would have to be mechanically right or the first wind will take it off!” she said.

Tooele County Search and Rescue Commander Fred Denison says he enjoys role in the tradition and hopes the team will maintain the display indefinitely.

“We do this for the whole county, not just Tooele City,” stipulated Denison, echoing Grimm’s notion of a guiding light. “We do it mostly in hopes that everyone finds their way home safe on the holiday.”

Grimm sees the tree as a spiritual beacon, too:

“It lifts your thinking and stirs up the spiritual in you,” she said. “So many things are changing and there are so many events that aren’t good, so you need something to hang on to. I see that beautiful light every night from my house and I get a warm feeling because it reminds me of the birth of Jesus Christ—the real meaning of Christmas.”

Jolly Rotor, a local aerial production company, filmed this year’s tree setup.  Great video.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2015 in Holiday Related, Uncategorized

 

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A humble request on behalf of the best teacher I’ve ever known

Karma

I realize that most readers of this blog are located outside of my Tooele County community, but I’d like you to read this post anyway, because it’s about one of the best teachers I’ve ever known.

Ask anybody to name their favorite school teacher and no matter how many years or miles separate them from that classroom– no matter what their current financial status or profession– a name will immediately come to mind.  It’s the one teacher that connected with them, the one who had their back when the chips were down.  The one who taught them stuff they may not recall now, but who instilled a sense of unforgettable wonder and love.

For many kids in Tooele County, that teacher is Miss Karma.  First, I’d like you to read an article I wrote about her for the Tooele Transcript Bulletin a couple years ago:

Planting Seeds: Rose Springs’ Karma Dale to be honored with a Huntsman Award for Excellence

“I am a strawberry, where do I grow—up above or down below?”

First grade teacher Karma Dale shows a picture of the fruit to her students, who sit, all ears, on a large alphabet rug in her Rose Springs Elementary classroom.  A smile fills her face as they exclaim in unison, “Up above!” and rise to their feet.

“I’ve got a perfect class,” the seasoned instructor beams in a tone as warm and sincere today as it’s been for the last 26 years.  “An absolutely perfect class!”

Dale, 57, will be honored as a recipient of the 2010 Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education at a banquet in Salt Lake City this Friday.

“It was a total surprise,” Dale said of the announcement, which was made by Karen Huntsman during a surprise visit to her classroom last week.

But to her colleagues, the community of Stansbury Park, and hundreds of parents the county wide, Dale was a shoe-in for the prestigious award.  Her nomination—one of hundreds across the state—was initiated by two parents in March and was quickly supplemented by a thick stack of endorsements from parents and co-workers.

“There simply are not adequate superlatives to describe Miss Karma’s teaching or her impact on children,” wrote Rose Springs Principal Leon Jones in her nomination packet.

Dale can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a teacher.  She spent her childhood pretend-teaching her dolls in her Grantsville home.  Her inanimate pupils sufficiently instructed, she younger brother to read before his first grade year.

After graduating from Primary in her Latter Day Saint ward at age 12, she was immediately given a teaching role in the organization.  During her high school years, Dale’s uncle Levar Hansen, then Principal of Grantsville Elementary, often asked her to substitute teach.

“That’s when I knew for sure,” she said.

Dale earned an associate degree in early childhood development from Weber State University and opened a preschool in the Hansens’ basement.  Over the next 13 years, Karma’s Kiddie Korner occupied various Grantsville locations, and “Miss Karma” became a household name.

After finishing a 4-year degree at Utah State University, Dale added her distinctive brand of instruction to Tooele’s East Elementary, where she taught kindergarten for 20 years.  She spent another year teaching first grade at Northlake Elementary before moving to Rose Springs in 2005.  After 26 years in the public school system, she still cherishes her job.

“I love to teach—it’s my everything,” she said.  “It’s my life.”

Outside the classroom, Dale’s life hasn’t been easy.  At age 25, she suffered a crippling stroke and underwent the grueling process of relearning how to walk, talk, and write.

She’s raised four children of her own—mostly as a single mother, which has meant taking extra jobs to make ends meet.  She drives a ’94 Ford with one working door, which gets her to work every day “on a prayer.”

She says her teaching career is worth the sacrifice because it has allowed her to spend time with her kids.

“My hours matched their hours,” she said.  “I had to mow some extra lawns, but I wanted to be home when they were home.”

The same dedication is apparent in Dale’s classroom, where she says she strives toward simple goal: to spark a lifelong desire to learn.  Simple too is her approach: Love.

Those first few weeks  [at school] I don’t care how  much I teach them—I  want them to know how much I value them and how much I love them.  They need to feel secure.  I don’t think, until they have those feelings, that they can start to learn,” she explained.

Dale believes students do best as active participants in the learning process.  Learning, she says, is driven by curiosity and investigation.  A well-known “Karma-ism” sums it up: “Kids learn better on their feet than in their seat.”

“I want to make school a happy, fun place to be,” she said.  “Somewhere along the way we lose that magic.  We forget that learning can be fun.”

Dale is well-known for her creative methods, which include hands-on and active experiences like hobo picnics, hatching chickens, and observing a caterpillar’s metamorphosis to butterfly.  Students are challenged to read advanced sight words by “Winnie the Wicked Witch,” who “melts” to the floor with each successful reading.

Adding another dimension to the instruction is the class mascot, Corduroy, a bowtie-clad teddy bear, who plays several roles in the learning experience.  He cheers students when they achieve; he’s there for a hug when their hurt.  Often he’s a reverse psychologist, playing foil to Dale’s optimism.

“Corduroy just whispered to me that he doesn’t think the students can write those hard words,” she’ll announce.

“Yes we can, Corduroy!” comes the emphatic response.

To promote adventure and journaling, Corduroy is assigned to a single student each weekend.  Students chronicle their adventures with him for a large class scrapbook.  He’s a well-traveled bear, boasting trips all over the country.

“He’s the luckiest bear alive,” Dale smiled.

Dale says she makes sure to emphasize things that are of utmost importance to first grade age students—like losing teeth.  Kids fortunate enough to lose their teeth under Dale’s tutelage become members of her tooth club.  Their feats are graphed on a classroom wall.

“I have kids from other classes come and say ‘I’ve heard you pull teeth.’  That’s a really important thing in first grade!” she said.

Dale’s Huntsman award is made all the more gratifying by its timeliness, as she recovers from what was likely another stroke suffered last month.   She says she doesn’t remember much about what happened, but says doctors told her later that they had given her a ten percent chance of surviving the first night.

News of Dale’s hospitalization spread quickly through the Stansbury Park.  Rose Springs was flooded with well wishes and requests for news.  A Facebook page created by family to provide updates on her status garnered over 300 followers.

To the delight of the community, Dale made a rapid recovery.  Friends and family credit her indomitable spirit.  Dale, in many ways, credits her students.

“I just pictured the kids in mind—their faces, their strengths, their cute little personalities, and I just needed to get back to those little faces.  I needed them far more than they needed me,” she recalled.

Just over a week after being released from the hospital, Dale returned to school to visit her students, where Huntsman waited to announce her award.

“I told her she should work half days for a while,” said Jones.  “But she informed me she’d be doing full days.”

Miss Karma was back in front of the chalkboard full time the following Monday.  At Friday’s presentation she’ll be given a crystal trophy and a check for $10,000.  Dale says she plans to put the money toward medical expenses and a better used car.

Dale’s students will finish the school year by finalizing school memory books that they’ve compiled all year.  But their relationship with her won’t end with first grade.

“After I’ve taught the kids they’re locked in my heart forever,” she said.

Dale says she regularly attends recitals and graduations.  Former students stop by to check in with her often.  Several have grown up and entered the teaching field.  Dale says she has no plans to retire, but when she does retire, she’ll probably return to the preschool, since she can’t imagine not teaching children.

Her focus is firmly on the present where, in her brightly decorated classroom, students are thrilling to a flannel board story about corn and flowers.

“Do you think it’s kind of a miracle that this tiny of a seed can grow this big a flower?” She asks them.

“Yes,” come the wide-eyed responses, as if with an inkling that planting good seeds is Miss Karma’s specialty.

Last year was Miss Karma’s last at Rose Springs, but she will continue touching lives as an LDS missionary.  I would humbly ask you to consider donating to a GiveForward account to help cover the costs.  We hope to present the funds  to her at her retirement party on September 22nd. So please join me in paying it forward to Miss Karma for all that she has done for our children and community!

GiveForward – Miss Karma’s Mission

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Rose Springs’ Greg Robinson inspires students with life experience and music

This article originally appeared in the December 19, 2013 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.

It’s a frigid December morning in Stansbury Park.  Students bundled in their warmest winter gear trickle into Rose Springs Elementary to finish off the school week.  The school’s snowy lawns and icy walkways leave no doubt that winter has fully arrived.  But as far as the students in Mr. Robinson’s 6th grade class are concerned, it might as well be July.

They sit quietly at their desks—some writing, some pondering—most tapping their feet to the beat of Katy Perry’s recent single, “Roar,” which pumps from the classroom speakers at a volume that would make a schoolmarm blush.

Their classroom is awash in surf-themed décor.  An eclectic mix of educational art, University of Utah football and band posters adorn the walls.  The writing and pondering and tapping continue until Katy Perry fades to The Ramones.  Then, as if on cue, all thirty students begin belting the words to “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” substituting “Sheena” with “Savannah,” the name of a beaming classmate.

The spectacle is a prelude to the class’s morning meeting, an energetic roster of participatory instruction that the students have dubbed “Head Strong.”  Overseeing it all from the corner of the room is their teacher, Greg Robinson, who students, parents and administration alike refer to as simply Mr. Rob.

Dressed casually in blue jeans and a Harley Davidson beanie, Robinson, 43, has said nary a word to the class since the bell rang. Instead, he lets the music do the talking: The Ramones’ “Sheena” is a signal for students to clear their desks.  They line up for lunch to “Pudding Time” by Primus.  The Coasters’ “Yackety Yak” cues their afternoon cleanup.

“Everything is music-based in here,” Robinson explained.  “They learn the transition to the music so they don’t have to hear from me all day.  The less they have to listen to me about tiny, procedural things, the more they might listen when I say something important.”

A Harley Davidson fanatic from the small town of Ferron in Emery County, Robinson spent 13 years as a Journeyman electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers before taking up teaching.  He’s soft-spoken, yet direct and humble in the extreme.  His tone with students is casual, yet positive and purposeful, exuding a certain blue collar accessibility.  He’s quick to turn the subject from himself and listen intently to the speaker.

Robinson’s approach to classroom instruction is anything but conventional.  He attributes this in part to spending thirteen years in a construction field before entering the classroom.

“I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today had I went straight from college to classroom,” he said.  “Having worked for so many people, some that I really loved and some that I had a hard time with, I approached with the thought that I want this to be someplace the kids want to be.”

Hints of Robinson’s second career—the one that would become his true passion—came in his youth by way of a high school counselor.

“He said you really ought to do something with the youth because you seem well suited to that,” Robinson recalled.  “And I thought, really?  I didn’t know what he was thinking because I wasn’t even a good student.  I barely graduated—no lie!  I didn’t get it, but then as I got into my career I thought maybe I do have something to offer.”

His opportunity came in 2002 when his wife, Tara, started a private preschool, which allowed him to enroll at Utah State University and earn an Elementary Education degree.  He graduated in 2006 and took his first job as a 3rd great teacher at Rose Springs in 2007.  He taught 3rd grade for two years before moving to 6th.  The switch meant that many students who were in his 3rd grade class came back around for his 6th grade class.

“There’s nothing more obnoxious than someone who loves their job, but I do,” Robinson said.  “I can’t think of a day where I woke up and didn’t want to come here.  I always want to come here.”

Does he ever regret trading a lucrative career for the classroom?  One word: “Never.”

“Both my brothers are still electricians with IBEW, and I’m very proud of them.  One electrician co-worker asked me how I can stand being in one place,” Robinson said.  “I tell them it changes every 30 seconds when you have 30 6th graders; the adventure is there.  I don’t need anything more than what these kids provide. When you see them want to be a part of the community and you had any small part in that, that’s where you get the reward.”

That sense of community, or as Robinson calls it, “the power of the group,” is a recurring theme in Robinson’s philosophy on teaching.  In fact he considers it crucial to academic learning.  He conducts most instruction with the entire group with emphasis on what he calls the “school family.”  He said the technique, though simple, is highly successful.

“You can take somebody with high intelligence and they share that.  Instead of putting up their little cubical and blocking out everybody around them, they share that knowledge with each other.  That builds everybody up, no matter where their level is,” He said.

Key to this strategy are the student’s desire to be in the classroom and readiness for a hard day’s work.  Notably absent from Robinson’s syllabus is homework.  He has his reasons.

“If they go home with frustrating homework every night, I don’t feel like they come in here ready for the day,” he explained.  “How can you expect them to want to come to school the next day when they’ve been hammering through homework all night?  Not only that but breaking down family ties—because homework’s is always a battle, always a fight.”

He said some individual homework is warranted on rare occasions to help bring up a reading level, but he avoids group homework assignments.  The policy thrills students universally and throws some parents for a loop.

I’ve had some parents say, ‘Where’s the homework?  We need homework!’” Robinson laughed.  “And I‘ve had others come in and say things like ‘Thank you!  I’ve been teaching my daughter to sew.’  Life isn’t all about school.  There are other skills to learn too.”

Robinson said his primary goal each day is to foster an uplifting environment for the students—hence the colors and surf décor.  He pointed to a baby blue surf board standing beneath a straw umbrella near the window.

“I’m not a surfer,” he stipulated.  “I’d sink that board. But I want it to feel like summer on a really dreary winter day.  In my very first class, one of the kids in the winter said ‘It’s snowing outside but it still feels bright and happy in here.’  I thought perfect.  That‘s exactly what I wanted.  I put thought into every single thing to somehow positively affect the kids, so they want to be there.”

Music is a constant in Robinson’s classroom.  He searches for songs that lend to a positive atmosphere and incorporates them into a master playlist.  Artists like Matisyahu and 311 are prominent.

“If you think about a car ride without music, it’s just not the same at all,” he explained.  “It builds a spirit in the room.  I feel like they’re happier to turn in their papers.  They’re happier to clean off their desk.  It creates a soundtrack for their year.”

Robinson’s methods are well received by Rose Springs administration.  Leon Jones, Robinson’s principal during his first five years at the school, called Robinson a “champion of the students.”

“He has grown to be one of the most effective teachers in building confidence and high achievement,” Jones said.  “He is a remarkable teacher.”

Current Rose Springs Principal Belinda Butler praised Robinson as a role model.

“He traded financial gain for the impact he could have on the children,” Butler said.  “He helps them understand that they can succeed and conquer.  His students adore him.”

Robinson spends his summers doing electrician work to make ends meet.  When weather permits—and it does more often than you might think—he rides his prized 2008 Harley Davidson Road King to school.  The bike’s name is Rooster (Robinson said he didn’t come up with name; it was inspired).

“We’re bros,” Robinson said.  Rooster’s part of the family.”

Robinson has no love for the limelight and almost bristles at recognition.  He said he is inspired by fellow teachers, administrators and his wife.  His focus is squarely on the success of the class with the long term goal is to developing kindness and compassion in his students.  To that end, the class does several service projects each year, including an annual outing to sing Christmas carols at the Cottage Glen assisted living center in Tooele in lieu of a class Christmas party.  They also donate presents to the Children’s Justice Center each year.  Robinson frequently tells his students that the legacy they leave behind is how they treat each other.

“People often ask how I can stand to be around kids these days,” he said.  “They say, ‘Kids are so disrespectful.’ And I’ll say, ‘I don’t think you spend enough time with them, because this is the best generation I’ve ever known.’  I’m a better person because of them.”

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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So long, Saltair Substation

First went the old train.  Then went the old substation.

Yesterday, crews demolished the cinder block substation at the old Saltair site.  All intact remnants of Old Saltair are now gone.  I’m doing my research now and will have the story within the next few days.  Stay tuned.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Speaking at Tooele County Historical Society on Dec. 14

If you’re interested and will be in the neighborhood, I’ll be speaking at the Tooele County Historical Society meeting on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 14.  I’ll be talking about my history-driven adventures in the west desert.  The meeting takes place at 7pm at the Pioneer Museum at 47 E. Vine St in Tooele, UT.

There is no cost to attend this meeting, but $5 will buy you a year-long membership to the Historical Society.  They’ll also have some good books for sale at the meeting.  If have anything in mind you’d like me to give particular emphasis to during my presentation, contact me via email or Twitter.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Uncategorized