The Enduring Spirit of Utah

June 16, 2021

One hundred years ago, in 1921, a young and newly married couple named Percy and Verabel Knudson saw the need for a gathering place in their community. Knowing they could make money selling ice cream and candy, the two started Idle Isle Ice Cream and Candy Store.

A few years later, after raising the necessary funds, Percy and Verabel—with the help of David H. Call and his wife LaRita—shifted their business from sweets to full-service meals, and Idle Isle Café was born.

Over the course of the last century, Idle Isle Café has endured remarkable events in history and served important people. It survived the difficulties of the Great Depression and World War II, all while serving locals and celebrities such as Wallace Beery, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Paulette Goddard.

During the ‘50s, Idle Isle even served “The Duke,” Mr. John Wayne, who stopped in on a number of occasions while visiting Utah on hunting trips and movie shoots. In those years, the Café also served as a meeting place for members of the Brigham City unit of the Utah National Guard who were later called to serve their country in the Korean War.

Idle Isle Café has endured both good times and bad. But whatever the times, it has always been a place where people from every walk of life can share a meal, enjoy friendship, and bear one another’s burdens as they endure the ups and downs of life together. As the Café celebrates its one-hundred-year anniversary this year, it is worth recognizing all the good it has done for Utah and for Brigham City.

Of course, bearing one another’s burdens is one of the things Utahns do best.

Travis and Jana Porter, the current owners of Idle Isle, epitomize this spirit. Anyone who befriends or works with the Porters quickly sees their love of community and their dedication to our country. Nearly everything they do, both inside the restaurant and out, stems from their passion for helping others and their optimistic outlook on life.

Even with their five kids and the business of the restaurant, the couple finds intentional time each day to love and serve those who work in the Café and those who come to visit. As a result of their service, Idle Isle Café endures.

We Utahns are engaged in the work of enduring together. In fact, the state economy is so robust in large part because neighbors care for neighbors; friends care for friends; and strangers even look out for strangers.

It doesn’t matter who you are. In Utah, you belong. Whether in the café or the community, there is a place for you at the table. Our doors are open. So too are our hearts.

The enduring spirit of Utah is not inspired by government. It’s inspired by moms and dads, teachers, small business owners, friends, and neighbors.

Earlier this year, when neighbors in West Valley City were overwhelmed at the prospect of revamping and reclaiming their community, an opportunity presented itself. Aged homes—with peeling paint and cracked up driveways, broken fences, and neglected yards—needed to be refinished. So in typical Utah fashion, the neighbors came together.

After identifying problems, reviewing resources, and communicating with community leaders, an initiative was born: “Operation MyHometown.”

Operation MyHometown is a neighborhood improvement coalition made up of residents, city workers, and volunteers from various churches and organizations. It runs entirely on private initiative and volunteerism—two of Utah’s hallmark strengths.

Their process is simple: see something in need of repair, note it, and join the group to help fix it. Repair requests can be submitted online and anyone can help. The projects are significant and, quite remarkably, they are being completed.

To quote one news report:

“Six days a week, the church is converting its meetinghouse in the neighborhood into a community center. Corporations are donating cash and goods. A new park is planned. The city is adding street lights. Funds are being raised to finance home ownership. And volunteers are streaming in from all over the Salt Lake Valley to work side by side with residents.”

Neighborhood resident, Bonnie Shaw, stated: “I am so encouraged, so hopeful, so blessed, I can’t even believe this is happening.”

Another resident, Nickolaus Orwin, shared:

“We live in a strange world these days. We hear this ideology that if you don’t look like me, talk like me, act like me and vote like me, then we must be enemies, but throughout all of this social upheaval . . . this community has worked together and served one another in such a brilliant and beautiful way that it just defies the ideology that we’re different and we have to segregate ourselves out into groups. Even in the dark days of COVID . . . this community service was such a bright, shiny star. Through all of that hard, we have this, this really beautiful and safe community service that was happening.”

It has been said that “the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” If that is the case, Utah is truly a great place.

To honor this tradition of greatness, I myself am grateful to host the annual Flavors of Utah event in partnership with Operation MyHometown in West Valley City later this summer. My office has partnered with this, and other great community groups, to collect food from local producers and distribute it to those in need. I encourage other Utahns to join me in this effort as we – together –look for opportunities to thrive.

The spirit of Utah, the enduring spirit of Utah, is born from a rich history of hard work, industry, innovation, and ingenuity. Few individuals embody this spirit more than the late Obert Clark Tanner.

Born in Farmington, Utah in 1904, O.C. Tanner was the youngest of ten children. Despite his position in the family, from a young age, Tanner felt an obligation to provide for his family. He did so by performing odd jobs around the city, including stoking furnaces.

One of the people for whom Tanner stoked the furnace was a jeweler. The jeweler became a friend and a mentor to Tanner, and with time, schooled the young Tanner in the jewelry business. Tanner was a quick study. He swiftly implemented the lessons taught to him and began selling graduation pins and class rings from the back of his car.

In 1927, he officially founded the O.C. Tanner Company. Though still an undergraduate student at the University of Utah, he used what time he had outside of his classwork to make ends meet.

And make ends meet he did.

The company quickly grew and endured the difficulties that put others out of business. Throughout the years, the enduring spirit of O.C. Tanner has been a guiding light and an inspiration to many, and the company has achieved great heights.

In 2002, the O.C. Tanner Company crafted the medals for the Winter Olympics which were hosted in Salt Lake City.

In 2019, O.C. Tanner designed a copper spike replica of the original Golden spike that was ceremonially driven at the joining of the two branches of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

Today, the O.C. Tanner Company maintains offices in the United States, Canada, England, Singapore, Australia, and India. The company is one of the largest manufacturers of retail and corporate awards in the United States and employs over 1500 people.

Through the dark nights of hardship, O.C. Tanner endured, and he succeeded!

Through the difficulties of community building, the volunteers of Operation MyHometown endure. And they are succeeding.

And through 100 years of historic highs and unforgettable lows, the Idle Isle Café endures. And yes, the café too is succeeding.

As goes the saying: “those who endure, conquer.”

Similar to O.C. Tanner, the volunteers at Operation MyHometown, and the Idle Isle Café, all Utahns have endured the difficulties of the last year with utmost faith and fortitude. And they are emerging victorious.

The enduring spirit of Utah is strong.

The 2020 pandemic, earthquakes, civic discord, confusion, and contention presented daunting challenges in the lives of all. And yet, Utahns are breathing a collective sigh of relief as we embrace the shining horizon that lies ahead.

Since the onset of the virus over one year ago, Utahns have seen a near-continual drop in unemployment. Utah’s unemployment rate fell to 2.8% in April – less than half the national number.

Though earthquakes shook homes and businesses last year, Utah’s economy has still been rated the best in the United States by several nationally recognized outlets.

And while the discord, confusion, and contention have seemed to dominate the airwaves, Utah’s citizens have banded together to bridge the partisan divides that can be so difficult to overcome.

Utah, and Utahns, are remarkable.

If you are seeking a place to start a business, ask those at Idle Isle Café— Utah is the place.

If you are seeking a place where community matters, ask those at Operation MyHometown – Utah is the place.

And if you are seeking a place where opportunity is abundant, read the story of O.C. Tanner – Utah is the place.

I am grateful for the privilege of representing the state of Utah here in the United States Senate.

And it is my hope that the successes and the enduring spirit of Utah will serve as an example for the nation.

I yield the floor.