Big heart, big award

Braving the snowstorm Wednesday evening, over 1,600 people packed a ballroom to make it the largest event the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City has ever held, according to Marty Carpenter, the spokesman of the Salt Lake Chamber.

Dressed in their best attire and paying $150 per seat, the attendees had gathered to show their support in honoring Weber State University alumnus Kem Gardner with the “A Giant In Our City” award presented by the Salt Lake Chamber.

“It’s the most prestigious award given by the business community,” Carpenter said. “Think of it as a lifetime achievement award. It’s for those who have not only succeeded in business, but have gone above and beyond in contributing to our community, and that’s certainly the case with our honoree tonight.”

Gardner is chairman of The Gardner Company, co-founder and past president of The Boyer Company, and has been chair of the Intermountain Healthcare Board for the past several years, serving on it for a total of 30 years. He is also currently serving on the board of The United Way of Salt Lake and the Board of the Utah Symphony.

“Nobody likes to feel that they’re a giant,” Gardner said. “But I think the issues that we work with in the community are giant issues, and we feel like if we can make a contribution and improving education and helping the less fortunate and working on protecting our resources and helping the arts in various ways, just helping out . . . I look at it as giving back as much as that I love this community, and I want to help.”

The ceremony was carried out with a three-course dinner, several speeches, video tributes and a band. In addition to a glass trophy, Gardner was also honored with the Pastor France A. Davis Scholarship. Gardner expressed his appreciation and said he would like the scholarship to go to “trying to help members of the minority community that have done well in high school and that want to go to college.”

Among those in the video tributes were governor Mitt Romney, Scott Anderson, the president and CEO of Zion’s Bank, and Jon M. Huntsman.

During his speech, Gardner admitted he was “overwhelmed” and was grateful to be among the list of former giants.

“And I have to admit from what’s been said, I’m having trouble recognizing the person that you’re honoring tonight,” Gardner said.

Gardner quoted Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” in an effort to express his humility. The majority and remainder of his speech was a conveyance of appreciation to a large number of friends and family who he said helped shape his life.

As Gardner is an avid reader as well as a lover of poetry, he also received five original Emily Dickenson publications, dating back to 1891, from the chamber.

Two of the speakers were Jeffrey R. Holland, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Dr. Charles Sorenson, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare.

“Through all this great hulk of a man, he is as tender as a child,” Holland said during his speech. “He weeps often. He weeps openly over the things that matter most to him: his family, his friends, his faith, his love of everything good in this life. Bellowing voice and boisterous manner aside, Kem is in fact a huge gigantic marshmallow, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He is purely and simply one of the most generous men I have ever known in my life.”

Gardner’s son, Christian Gardner, said his father deserves the award.

“I think it’s a great honor,” Christian said. “He’s very excited, and so are we.  I think it’s a great honor for everything that he’s done throughout his career, not just in business, but his community involvement and civic responsibilities.”

Gardner is on the advisory council at WSU and mentioned that with the help of WSU’s president Ann Millner, he has been working on contributing to the Dream Weber program. The program provides qualifying students with free tuition.

“Your president is one of them that I feel is really a giant, so I enjoy working with her,” Gardner said of Millner.

Gardner provided advice for current students at WSU and hoped that they would become more involved in serving others.

“Well, I think the needs are all around us and you don’t need to invent the wheel,” Gardner said. “There are nonprofit boards that are involved in (WSU), and if you give of your time, it isn’t necessarily having a lot of money or resources, it’s giving of your time. I think they ought to join a United Way board or Boys and Girls Club board. Just help out in the community. That’s my advice, and if they do, they’ll make the best people in the world.”