A global pandemic cast a long shadow over 2020.
The impact of the new coronavirus on life everywhere was so comprehensive and profound that it wasn’t just the biggest story of the year. It shaped nearly every story to be told, from education to the economy, politics and policy, faith and friendship.
With uncertainty the only certainty, resiliency, resourcefulness and creativity were pushed to unexpected limits. But people pushed forward and endured, writing the stories of life the way the always have – one day at a time.
The following anecdotes are just some of the stories of a year unlike any other, as seen through the eyes of the unique people who call the Bear River Valley home.
• The first baby born at Bear River Valley Hospital in 2020 didn’t arrive until almost a week into the new year. Arianelle Stringham was born healthy at 8:04 p.m. to Garland parents Mariah and Trevor Stringham on Monday, Jan. 6, weighing 6 pounds, 2 ounces, and measuring 20 inches long.
• the Tremonton City Council swore in two newly elected members. Connie Archibald and Rick Seamons replaced longtime councilmembers Jeff Reese and Diana Doutre.
• The Box Elder Chamber of Commerce announced its annual awards for 2019, and Tremonton was well represented among those recognized.
Year. Kent’s Market in Tremonton and Bear River Bowling Center/The Grille were named Large Business of the Year and Medium Business of the Year, respectively.
• The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development announced that Procter & Gamble would expand its operations in Box Elder County, creating up to 221 jobs in the next 20 years at the company’s large manufacturing facility near Bear River City.
• Law enforcement authorities in the Tremonton area were on high alert on Feb. 3 after a local teenager made an online post suggesting that plans for a school shooting could be in the works, but a police investigation determined there was no real threat. A local teen had posted a picture of himself on the popular social media website Snapchat holding some sort of toy gun. A caption underneath the picture read something along the lines of “Don’t go to school tomorrow,” Police Chief Kurt Fertig said.
“He said it was a joke, and we found nothing that made us believe it wasn’t,” Fertig said. “Obviously it was not a well thought-out post, and not funny.”
• One hundred and fifty years after the first woman to vote in utah cast her ballot, almost to the day, Utah State University held a celebration at its Brigham City campus to recognize five local winners of its Year of the Woman photo and essay contest. Alison Bingham, Mollie Topham, Shan Robinson, Heidi Cunningham and Carli Miller were recognized and given prizes at a ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 13.
• At its facility in Promontory, Northrop Grumman test fired a rocket motor that will be used on the OmegA, a new space-launch vehicle created by the company and one of several private-sector projects competing to be the main provider of launch services to the U.S. space program.
• Box Elder County officially paved the way for two solar energy projects in the county that won’t bring many permanent jobs, but are expected to generate significant increases in tax revenue in the coming decades. The Box Elder County Commission approved interlocal agreements for Project Rocket and Project Steel, two solar farms planned for locations near Howell and Plymouth. Both projects occupy around 1,000 acres of land and are expected to generate a combined 200 megawatts of clean energy.
• As in communities across the nation and world, the Bear River Valley began feeling the effects of safety measures put into place in response to the spread of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19. The immediate impacts were wide-ranging, affecting nearly every aspect of everyday life. In-person classes at Bear River High and other local schools were cancelled for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Per a state order, local restaurants closed their dining rooms and were relying on take-out and drive-through business to keep things going. Tremonton City services including the senior center, food pantry and library were halted or severely altered while officials worked to wrap their heads around the issue. At that early stage in the pandemic, nobody expected it would continue until the end of the year and beyond.
“There’s just so many unknowns,” BRHS Vice Principal Clay Chournos said in late March. “It’s hard on everybody.”
The Bear River Health Department issued a long list of guidelines and restrictions, some of which remain in effect today.
The local Procter & Gamble plant ramped up production of toilet paper as the essential item quickly became difficult to find at local retail outlets. The Box Elder School District used its fleet of school buses and local school cafeterias to deliver breakfast and lunch to students and families throughout the area.
• Garland restaurant The Pie Dump, a local institution for nearly a century, was featured on the popular Food Network travelogue “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” hosted by Guy Fieri, the celebrity chef known for his spiky, bleach-blond hair and goatee, classic cars, and love of down-home cooking.
• Allen Dee Pace, known to friends and family as “Dee,” was officially the first person from Box Elder County and the tri-county Bear River health district to succumb to COVID-19. He passed away April 18 after battling the illness for weeks.
Tributes poured in through social media for Pace, whose impact reached far and wide in the local theater community, school system, and beyond.
• The landscape of Tremonton continued to change as firefighters from Tremonton, Garland and other local departments burned three houses located in the 500 West block of Main Street to clear the way for commercial development. The spectacle was part of an agreement between Tremonton City and a local real estate developer to expand the downtown business district as the city continues to grow.
• The U.S. Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II Demonstration and 388th Fighter Wing performed a formation flyover throughout Utah in salute to everyone on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19, as well as to those staying at home, to “flatten the curve” of the virus. The flyover came directly over Bear River Valley Hospital, where a group of hospital employees and others gathered on the helipad to view and wave to the jets.
• The coronavirus continued to wreak havoc on normal life as Golden Spike National Historical Park was forced to cancel the 151st anniversary celebration of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory. The National Park Service announced the cancellation “in response to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, Utah Department of Health, and Bear River Health District … to support federal, state and local efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus,” according to a press release.
All was not lost at the historical park, however, as park officials, benefactors and local, state and federal dignitaries gathered to witness the permanent installation of “Distant Thunder,” a life-size bronze sculpture of a bison weighing 6,000 pounds, in front of the park’s visitor center.
• The Bear River High School Class of 2020 didn’t get its traditional moment in front of the crowd, but the local community turned out in force to honor the graduates in its own way. On May 28, the streets of Tremonton and Garland briefly turned into an impromptu outdoor graduation stage for the Bear River Bears. Graduates decorated cars with balloons, streamers and signs with messages both humorous and sentimental, driving in a designated loop as part of a motorcade meant to honor the outgoing seniors.
• The wildfire season in Box Elder County got well under way, as several fires started by lightning consumed about 10,000 acres in remote areas of the county.
No human injuries or damage to working structures were reported, but the largest of the three fires, the Matlin Fire, destroyed two historic railroad trestle bridges and was threatening several cabins, trailers and outbuildings until firefighters gained control.
• A decade of work in the high desert of Box Elder County reached a milestone, as the segments for the two rocket boosters that will be used to help launch NASA’s first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the Artemis I mission arrived June 15 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, completing a 10-day journey by train that began at Northrop Grumman Corp.’s local facilities in Promontory.
• Voting season got underway on June 30 with the Box Elder County Republican primary vote, in which incumbent County Commissioner Stan Summers narrowly defeated Kris Udy and two other challengers in his bid for a third term. Summers said it would be his last four-year term on the commission.
• Organizers of Brigham City’s long-running Peach Days celebration made the difficult decision to cancel the event, making it the latest social casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Garland City moved forward with a scaled back version of its own heritage celebration, Wheat & Beet Days, on July 11.
Shortly after the announcement that Peach Days was off, organizers of the Box Elder County Fair met and decided that the huge event scheduled for August would proceed, but with many popular events canceled and others forced to make drastic changes.
Tremonton’s City Days also was held, but with many of the traditional trappings of the event canceled or altered.
• After a year of planning, fundraising and hard work, Rusten Thornley’s Eagle Scout project came to fruition. On a sunny July day, Thornley was at the site of a 2005 van accident on I-84 near Tremonton that claimed the lives of eight USU students and their instructor, to help guide a permanent, 8-foot-tall granite marker into place. The monument is inscribed with the names of the crash victims and a lyric from a tribute song written around the time the campus memorial was installed: “We Thank God for What You Planted.” It also pays homage to the banner that stood at the site for several years, with the words “Always Remember” carved across the top.
• The Box Elder County Fair looked a lot different this year. Gone were the carnival rides, bandstand entertainment and some other mainstays of the annual festival, but the main reason for the fair was still there as the Junior Livestock Show went on as planned. The Golden Spike Rode was also a success, with some 14,000 attendees over the weeklong event. All are planning and hoping for a return to normalcy for this year’s fair.
• Thousands of students returned to the classroom in schools across the Box Elder School District for the first time since in-person instruction was suspended in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes resumed with a host of precautionary measures in place, the most visible being a mandate for everyone entering the schools to wear a facemask.
• After local leaders had been petitioning for the move since June, Box Elder County became the first county in Northern Utah to move to a minimum restriction level under the state’s plan to combat the spread of the new coronavirus. Gov. Gary Herbert announced during his weekly press conference that the state had granted the county permission to move into the “green,” or “new normal” phase of reopening. The biggest changes from moving from to green were the ability to hold large gatherings of more than 50 people without social distancing requirements. Restaurants, which had been open but with limited seating, were also allowed to fully open again.
• The Garland City Council approved a resolution authorizing up to $6,625,000 in bonds to pay for a new sewer plant, allowing the city to disconnect from the Tremonton system it has been using for decades.
• A fire that broke out in the early morning hours of Oct. 2 at the West Liberty Foods meat processing in plant in Tremonton, injuring three employees, forcing evacuations of nearby homes and causing at least $1.5 million in estimated property damage. Employees were back to work later that day, and the quick response of local firefighters prevented what could have been a much more disastrous event as the fire happened near an area containing large storage tanks full of highly flammable ammonia used in the facility’s cooling systems.
• The Box Elder School District Board of Education stopped its monthly meeting short after a some local residents who showed up to protest the district’s facemask-wearing requirements for students refused to don masks themselves. Residents packed the school board meeting Thursday, Oct. 8 in protest of their students having to wear facemasks while in school.
• The GWFC Women’s Civic League teamed up with Tremonton City to bring a pumpkin walk to the city for the first time. The public turned out at the Holmgren Nature Park and Trail along the Malad River to see a variety of pumpkin- and Halloween-themed displays from local schools, businesses and other organizations.
• Two days after his 100th birthday, Col. Gail Halvorsen returned to the place where he spent much of his young life. An adoring crowd stood waiting for him, but that wasn’t all. A freshly painted mural, stretching 75 long, nearly 30 feet high and bearing his likeness, served as the backdrop at a reception in Tremonton for the legendary Air Force pilot on Monday, Oct. 12. The mural honoring the “Candy Bomber,” painted by Nevada-based artist Erik Burke, is the largest among dozens that the city has become known for.
• Six weeks after Gov. Gary Herbert moved to ease COVID-19 restrictions in Box Elder County, a spike in cases locally and statewide prompted the state to reverse course, designating Box Elder as a high-risk transmission area and implementing new requirements including a mandate for people to wear face coverings in indoor settings.
• Trick-or-treaters received bags of candy at a drive-through event organized by the Box Elder Chamber of Commerce Friday, Oct. 30 at the Box Elder County Fairgrounds. The event was created to replace Tremonton’s traditional Trick or Treat on Main Street, which was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
• In an election featuring few contested local races, voters in the county turned out in record-high numbers to support their choice for the next president of the United States, governor of Utah, two seats in the Utah Legislature, and a new face representing their district in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 18 years.
Early and late on Election Day, long lines formed outside the Bear River Valley Senior Center, which served as one of two in-person voting locations in the county on Tuesday, Nov. 3. 26,362 ballots were cast countywide, representing slightly more than 88% of all registered voters.
In the presidential race, incumbent Republican President Donald Trump was the overwhelming favorite in the county, gaining 78.4% of the vote, compared with 16.2% for Democratic challenger and eventual winner Joe Biden.
• The Tremonton City Council approved a resolution formalizing the hiring of Robert LaCroix, who is the city’s first full-time fire chief on staff. He replaced outgoing volunteer chief Steve Batis, who has retired from the department after more than 40 years of service.
• Figures released daily by the Bear River Health Department show a disproportionate number of deaths caused by COVID-19 in Box Elder County relative to the rest of the Bear River health district, but local health officials said the cause of the disparity is uncertain.
As of Dec. 1, BRHD had reported 30 deaths in its tri-county area of Box Elder, Cache and Rich since the beginning of the pandemic. The deaths have been split evenly between Box Elder and Cache counties, despite the fact that Box Elder County has accounted for slightly more than 22% of all reported cases, while more than 77% of cases have been attributed to Cache County.
The number of deaths in Box Elder County has since surpassed that in Cache County, with 26 Box Elder deaths compared with 20 in Cache at the end of 2020.
• Determined to keep Christmas off the long list of events that have been canceled this year, Laura Calder and dozens of others banded together last week to bring the local community a live retelling of the story of the nativity.
Cars were lined up a half-mile long or more in both directions along 4400 West in Garland on the evening of Monday, Dec. 14, as thousands came out to catch a glimpse of the live nativity from the safety of their own vehicles.
“We wanted to do something to bring peace and hope to the community during a hard year,” Calder said.