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Sandy Journal

Brookwood students deck the mansion, bringing joy to governor, first lady

Dec 14, 2018 02:12PM ● By Julie Slama

Brookwood Elementary fourth-graders made ornaments to decorate the governor’s nine-foot tree in the mansion’s library. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

In 1902, the Kearns Mansion that was built to rival the mansions of the Vanderbilts and Carnegies in the East and was known to entertain lavish parties for leading political and religious dignitaries. Now the Governor’s Mansion, it recently hosted special guests: Brookwood Elementary fourth-graders.

On Dec. 4, 26 students in Monica Rotermund’s class carefully hung hand-painted sled ornaments, button snowflakes, beaded swirls and other decorations that were made of paint, popsicle sticks, glue and glitter.

“Our young people put the pizazz and the glitter, which I have all over me, in Christmas,” said Gov. Gary Herbert, referring to the sparkle on himself after holding the star for the tree. “’Tis the season to glitter.”

After several attempts, he placed the star atop the nine-foot tree, with direction from his wife, Jeanette. 

“And you think putting together a $19 billion budget is hard,” he joked afterward about the tree Herbert said “was one of the best-looking trees we’ve ever had.”

He also gave the schoolchildren a gift in the form of a message and asked them to share it as “special ambassadors” with other students at Brookwood Elementary.

“This is my Christmas present to you: If you want a good job, get a good education,” Herbert said, asking them to repeat the line twice. “Education will give you opportunities. It will open doors. It will give you choices and options in life. You are the rising generation. Pretty soon you are going to take over all the responsibilities of leading our communities. You may be in business, be teachers, lawyers, doctors…who knows, you might be a congressman, you might be a mayor or you might be on the school board, all kinds of options — the challenge for you is to prepare yourself for those opportunities. That really means education.”

The governor then stressed to students to graduate high school and make their plans for additional training or schooling post high school.

Jeanette also helped adorn the Christmas tree in the formal library, where just the day before Herbert signed legislation legalizing medical marijuana.

The ornaments, coordinated by room parents Heather Janke and Emily Loveland, included pinecones gathered from the yards of Rotermund and her mother. There also were wooden ornaments that showed photographs of each of the students participating in an outdoor activity in Utah. 

The class also made one for the First Couple, which Jeanette thanked them for and said she’d keep.

“I collect ornaments so I’ll add it to my collection,” she said. 

All the ornaments were coordinated in white, silver and gold.

“They were the colors that came to mind when we thought of the theme ‘Winter Wonderland,’” Janke said, adding that the children spent days preparing the ornaments since the first of November.

Fourth-grader Katelyn Loveland, who was next to Janke’s daughter, Grace, said she likes crafts so she had fun making the ornaments.

“I liked painting the sled best,” Katelyn said, adding that she also tied the bows for the tree.

Her classmate Rebekah Martin said once the ornaments are returned to the students in January, she planned to give her parents the one of her that hung in the Governor’s Mansion. The photo of her in her yard taken on the first day of fourth grade.

Rotermund, who was Canyons District’s Teacher of the Year in 2013, said she received an email shortly before Halloween requesting the students help to decorate the library Christmas tree and the mantel.

“It’s the first time Brookwood has been invited to decorate the tree,” Rotermund said. “It’s such an honor for these students.”

Jeanette, who led the students in singing “Jingle Bells,” said every year, she has invited a fourth-grade class to decorate, saying it ties into the fourth-grade curriculum to study Utah history.

“Many times, it’s their first time in the mansion so we are able to give them a little history about the home,” she said. “It’s just fun to see the light in their eyes. They’re excited about things and excited about life. It’s also an honor for them to meet the governor and decorate a tree here in the mansion. It’s something they’ll never forget and will be able to tell their grandkids.”

Across from the library in the parlor, the Herberts paused to hear the light classical and traditional Christmas carols played by Hillcrest High School’s Honors String Quartet. They played while the schoolchildren decorated the tree.

Fourth-grader Conner Vanderlinden had his photo taken with his father and the first lady. His father, Todd, has performed maintenance “from lighting to plumbing, about anything” in the mansion for the past nine years. 

While Vanderlinden shied away from the limelight, the first lady praised his ability before ensuring the students knew about the history of the home, beginning with the horned hat rack next to the tree that was given to Park City silver miner Thomas Kearns by his friend, President Theodore Roosevelt. 

Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and George W. Bush also visited the mansion, she said.

The tour, given by Jeanette, not only included the parlor, formal dining room, grand hall and library, but also, when the students asked, the ballroom and the newly converted basement. 

She also mixed in the mansion’s history, how it along with other buildings on the former “Brigham Street” represents some of Utah’s most prominent architects and how the mansion was restored after a December 1993 fire caused by a faulty wire on the Christmas tree. 

The mansion was donated to the state in 1937 and also has been used by the Utah Historical Society.

Herbert and his wife answered students’ questions about how long he has lived in the Mansion (10 years), how many levels and rooms are in the mansion (four levels, 34 rooms — “I’m glad I don’t have to clean it all,” Jeanette said), their favorite holidays (his favorite is any when the family is together, her favorite is July 4 as well as Halloween) and what’s in the basement. It once hosted a bowling alley when the Kearns’ neighbors would come play, but after it fell in disrepair, Jeanette oversaw the remodeling with a bedroom and large family room with a kitchenette and one of the pianos in the mansion, which Herbert is known to play.

The governor also shook hands with each student and talked to them individually. On one student, Malik Choudhary, he placed the tree topper above his head and joked, “I think we found the angel.”

Fourth-grader Finn Vernon said Herbert “told me he liked all the ornaments. I’ve never been in the mansion before or decorated a nine-foot tree.”

Herbert placed both hands on the shoulder of Oliver Theodore and said, “I’m older than you.”

“He told me he was born May 7 and I’m born on May 23. Without adding in the years, he’s 16 days older than me,” Oliver said.

Olivia Vance, who Herbert mentioned she may be the next governor, said “It sounds cool, but it’s not my dream job.” She wants to be a videographer, traveling to shoot film and editing herself for her own blog.

Nash Hales, who possibly does want to become Utah’s future governor, said he learned the mansion was 28,000 square feet.

Principal Corrie Barrett was appreciative of the invitation.

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids to be a part of this Utah tradition,” she said. “The kids took a lot of pride in creating the ornaments.”