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U of U Gala to Honor Olene Walker’s Legacy of Learning

Olene Walker

June 1, 2005 — In honor of her years of public service and her commitment to reading and literacy, the University of Utah College of Education joins members of the community in hosting “A Legacy of Learning-A Tribute to Olene Walker: ‘The Governor Who Makes Us Read'” on Wednesday, June 8. The event will be held at the Grand America Hotel, 555 Main Street, in downtown Salt Lake City, with a social hour beginning at 6 p.m., followed by a dinner and program at 7 p.m. Tickets for the event are $150 each and may be obtained by calling Vanessa at 801-364-8900 or by contacting her via e-mail at

Proceeds from the gala will benefit the Olene Walker Reading and Literacy Legacy Fund in the University’s College of Education. The fund will create scholarship opportunities for Utah K-3 teachers to obtain a Level 1 Reading Endorsement, fulfilling one of Walker’s wishes that Utah have more teachers trained as reading specialists.

The gala is being held just days before Walker and Myron Walker, her husband of 50 years, leave for New York, where they will work with United Nations diplomats as part of a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

For the gala, KSL television anchor Nadine Wimmer will be the master of ceremonies, and music will be provided by a University string quartet and the Utah International Children’s Choir. David J. Sperry, dean of the U’s College of Education, will give remarks.

Also that evening, Swoop, the University’s red-tailed hawk mascot, will unveil a special new children’s book dedicated to Walker and furthering her interest in encouraging parents to read with their children twenty minutes a day. Sponsored by the U’s College of Education, The Adventures of Newton and U was written by local writer Matt George, with illustrations by artist Mike Bohman, and is intended for young readers. The book’s main character-Newton-is introduced to many parts of the University of Utah. The book will be sold at the University Bookstore and at Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Jon M. Huntsman Center athletic events. Proceeds from sales of the book will also benefit the Olene Walker Reading and Literacy Legacy Fund. Books, which will be available for purchase beginning June 9, may be obtained at the University of Utah Bookstore on the University of Utah Campus or online at

That evening a newly completed portrait of Walker, which will join the portraits of past governors in Utah’s State Capitol, will be unveiled. Artist William Whitaker created the painting.

As Utah’s first woman governor, Walker came from a strong educational background, having received bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Brigham Young University, Stanford University and the University of Utah, respectively. While governor, Walker, a mother of seven, focused on Utah’s children and their ability to read. She encouraged Utahns, through public service announcements, to read to a child at least 20 minutes a day. During her 13 months of service, she was fond of saying, “Students learn to read from kindergarten through third grade. After third grade, they read to learn. We need to ensure each student can read or they will not succeed.”

As lieutenant governor, Walker succeeded Mike Leavitt when he left the governor’s position in November 2003 to head the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Leavitt, now U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, notes, in a special video tribute to her, “Utah has no better advocate than Olene Walker. She is an educator at heart, by training, and in practice. She inspired Utahns to read with their children. She relentlessly pushed the legislature to fund reading programs and she continues as the number one stateswoman in our state’s history to inspire a generation of leaders to concentrate on the most basic life skills of reading and language. No more fitting monument could be established than to symbolize her lasting legacy and to perpetuate the progress that she provided than by creating a scholarship in her name-because we can all say, ‘Olene Walker is our teacher.'”

In addition to the U’s College of Education, gala sponsors include Kennecott Land, the Deseret Morning News, Zions Bank, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation, American Express, Jeff Wright, and the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation.