David Rodeback's Blog

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Life Among the Mormons, and Other Stuff

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Thursday, December 31, 2009
American Fork in 2009: A Look Back

From restaurants that came and one that went, to city politics and . . . that marching band and the community that loves it.

I'm in a mood to look back upon the year 2009 and point out some things that strike me. Some of them strike me only a little, to be sure. Some of them strike me more.

Here at the blog, according to my Quantcast metrics, we broke the happy threshold of 1000 unique readers per month during the election season and also saw a Google PageRank of five. I passed my five-year blogiversary and the arbitrary milestone of 750 posts here. (This is 763, but who's counting?) I also began to use Facebook (where many readers catch this blog) and Twitter (mostly for links to good readings and up-to-the minute election returns). If none of this means anything to you, that's okay, and rest assured, more accessible topics follow immediately after this period: .

2009 was the year when The Olive Garden and In-n-Out came to American Fork, and La Vigna went. Smith's went, too, and Albertson's came out of the closet as something else entirely. J. C. Penney and Barnes and Noble delayed their coming. Parker's threatened to leave, but didn't.

Speaking of Parker's, and therefore of the new water rates in American Fork, a number of businesses and more than a few residents looked at their water bills, which reflected the new rates that were well-publicized before the public ever voted overwhelmingly for a pressurized irrigation system. In a sad but unsurprising piece of psychological alchemy, some took their inattention, mixed it with self-righteousness, and magically transformed it into a conspiracy on the part of American Fork's elected leaders to hide the new rates from the people until it was too late. (Apparently, if I choose not to read or to hear numerous communications from my government, it's their fault, not mine.) For its part, the City decided that the approved rates were unduly harsh for a handful of businesses and mitigated them somewhat.

As the pressurized irrigation system neared completion, three noteworthy things grew out of it. At the most trivial level, my lawn was greener this summer than ever before, due to the flat rate charged for pressurized irrigation water. At the most serious level, we -- including City leaders -- began to realize that putting off road maintenance until after the pressurized irrigation project had dug up all the roads was the just the sensible tip of an irresponsible and short-sighted iceberg. As it turns out, necessary ongoing road maintenance has been largely unfunded for about ten years. This practical and decidedly unglamorous issue became a dominant theme in the 2009 local elections.

Somewhere in the melodramatic middle, some politicians in the small city to the north, Highland, figured out how to use our pressurized irrigation project and some absurd charges about "secret" meetings to unseat their Mayor Jay Franson. The cheap tricks are still swirling up there, perhaps heralding a particularly ugly season in Highland politics. . . . Which leads us to one of the happier surprises in American Fork's own election cycle: the uncharacteristic absence of last-minute dirty tricks intended to destroy one incumbent or another.

In that election, the two city council incumbents, Dale Gunther and Heidi Rodeback (MFCC), won reelection rather handily against a weak field of opponents. I am pleased that they won -- they are the heavy hitters on a very good council -- but I'm also pleased that this time there was a full field of opponents. In 2007, you may recall, there were four incumbents and one semi-absentee challenger running for four seats.

The city council election results notwithstanding, it was a bad year for local incumbents in Utah County. American Fork Mayor Heber Thompson was just one of the incumbent mayors in Utah County to get smacked down hard. Some American Fork insiders were motivated to support well-known challenger James Hadfield by concern for what they saw as significant administrative dysfunctions, but I suspect that more voters changed horses over tax-related concerns. Some of these were legitimate and some were not, but even the latter sprang from public relations gaffes by the Thompson administration. Similar gaffes attended the implementation of American Fork's new we-don't-want-to-call-it-mandatory recycling program. (For the record, I recycle.) In any case, there's at least one sad side to the way things ended for Thompson: The ending does not acknowledge, and perhaps somewhat obscures, some very significant accomplishments on Thompson's part, of which more soon

But politics isn't the whole of life. In music and the other arts, it was a fine year for American Fork. Behind the scenes, the Arts Council was reorganized under the leadership of an impressive governing board. On stage, Concerts in the Park had an excellent season. The History and Heritage Pageant at the cemetery was a fine event -- again. The long-established American Fork Symphony, the relatively new Wasatch Winds, and the Timpanogos Chorale made -- and still make -- a fine trio of large ensembles in the community. And American Fork schools excelled in these areas, as usual.

American Fork did not seem to embrace fully the Obama mania that peaked on January 20, Inauguration Day. But we were not unusually immune to the nation's and the world's economic struggles or, for that matter, the Disease Formerly Known as Swine Flu. The ongoing struggle (which the current administration does not call a war) on Islamofascist terrorism (which the current administration prefers to call man-caused disasters) reached into American Fork in February, when local soldier Micheal Alleman was killed in Iraq. (Ask me which of this year's blog posts I'm most likely to reread and appreciate, and "Of Freedom and Sacrifice," written on that occasion, will be one of a select few. Another veteran is featured in another favorite.)

All of this is noteworthy, at least to me, but I haven't yet mentioned the American Fork story which looms largest this year. It is rooted in a long and beloved American Fork tradition, but it began on a tragic October night in southeast Idaho. The American Fork High School Marching Band was on its way home from yet another impressive victory. South of Pocatello, the driver of one of the four band buses blacked out. As the bus left I-15 at freeway speed, woodwind teacher Heather Christensen left her seat and attempted to steer the bus to safety -- which we might say she managed to do, except for herself. She was killed in the attempt, but no one else was. The bus rolled onto its side and skidded to a stop short of some rough and rocky terrain. There were numerous injuries, but none were grave. We rightly conclude that this makes Christensen's death an act of heroic sacrifice.

The community turned out in force. Hundreds greeted the other three buses' return at American Fork High School that night, after midnight. Condolences and fond wishes poured in from around the country. Less than 72 hours later, every member of the American Fork High School Marching Band, injuries and heartache notwithstanding, took the field at BYU's Lavell Edwards Stadium, in front of an uncharacteristically large audience of well over 10,000. They not only performed well; they won everything in sight -- again -- and honored Christensen and America's heroes generally in the process.

This might have been story enough. But in November the band won a multi-state competition in St. George, and the organizers of the Grand National competition in Indiana invited the band to fill an empty slot there the following weekend. The band had been to Grand Nationals before, but had not planned to go this year and had not prepared financially or tailored its show to the particular features of that competition. In less than 48 hours, the band raised more than $250,000 to fund the trip. They went, they advanced to the semifinals, they won the spirit award, and it was a suitably remarkable end to an impressive and poignant season.

I attempted at the time, here at the blog, to capture in words the experience of merely watching all this transpire -- the heroism, the courage, the grace, the exceptional sense of community. If you have nothing better to read today, may I suggest my favorite series of my own blog posts of 2009? I would rather that the event which began the story had not occurred at all, of course, but it did happen, and it and the story that followed deserves to be remembered.

A Bus, a Band, a Community (October 11, 2009)
Pride and Grace and Courage and Some Tears (October 13, 2009)
Thoughts on Passing Milepost 49 (October 17, 2009)
Epilogue: Marching Band, Victory, and Justifying the Costs (November 17, 2009)

As I see it, only two things remain to be said here, before 2009 comes to its scheduled end.

Thanks for reading.

And have a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

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