A Transformative Influence: The Arts Community Strives For Excellence

preserving what we love about Heber Valley

It’s no secret the Heber Valley has seen some dramatic changes in the past few years. Since 2000, the population has doubled, and is expected to double again by 2040. The community is shifting from a sleepy agricultural community to a burgeoning mountain recreation mecca.

Growth causes changes. Some changes are drastic such as increased traffic on Main Street, more commercial and retail offerings, and fields once plowed for grain become house-lined streets that are plowed for snow.

Other changes, though not intrinsically bad, are more subtle and harder to anticipate or see. Gradually, the western heritage of the valley shifts to something more urban. Cultural attitudes and values shift and adapt to the needs of the changing demographic landscape. Eventually, some who have been here long enough start longing for the “good ol’ days,” and 20 years from now we may be longing for the way things are today.  Some changes can cause a great deal of harm, but others, if anticipated and planned for, can cause a great deal of good by helping us preserve what we love in our communities and may even have us looking with excitement toward the future. Take for example the growing arts community in the valley and consider where it has come from, how it benefits the valley and what the future holds.

Sue Waldrip of Midway has been in the valley since 2005, and over the past 13 years she has seen how the arts have grown from a handful of struggling artists and performers to a viable solution to the challenges and changes facing the Heber Valley.

Waldrip has spent her whole life loving and appreciating the arts. Her love for the arts began at an early age when she picked up the violin for the first time. The arts carried her through college with a music degree from the University of Utah. Soon after graduating, Waldrip headed off to California where she would raise her family of six kids. As often happens when raising children, some of her passions where placed on hold as she poured her love and effort into her family.

Nevertheless, she still felt the arts calling her and through the years she found a new love of writing musicals and conducting choral groups. It became a way for her to connect with her community and even with a higher power.

“I think art is divine. When we do good art, of whatever kind, it’s a way of communicating with a higher power. I think It makes us better people because it lifts and lightens our hearts,” says  Sue Waldrip.

Today, Waldrip is the president of a theater group in Midway called High Valley Arts. Her group performs many times throughout the year from small, more intimate choral concerts, to grand productions of musicals such as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat,” “Annie Get your Gun,” “The Wizard of Oz” and most recently “My Fair Lady.” Waldrip started High Valley Arts in 2009 and uses mostly volunteers to produce her events.

Whether it’s rehearsals, planning meetings, auditions, scenery production or  promotions, Waldrip is always pushing her organization to strive for excellence and said other artists who love their work are doing the same. “We do everything the best we can. I love what I do so much that I can’t imagine anything less than excellence,” says Waldrip.

It is this striving for excellence in the arts that can have a transformative influence on the community.

It’s been her experience that the arts can inspire people to look at life in a new way, to explore new ideas and find solutions to many community problems. The Heber Valley is going through a major transition right now with debates about open space, preserving heritage, building a diversified economy and growth. In many ways Sue Waldrip says embracing the arts through things such as theater, music, painting, photography or whatever the medium can help address some of what she calls “tug-o-war” issues in the county.

“Heber Valley is unique. The focus has been more cowboys, demolition derbies and agriculture than the arts, but as more people have come to the valley the arts have started to slowly grow,” she says.

She points out how the Heber Valley culture is in fact being preserved through many of the different art programs in the valley. The Heber Valley Western Music and Cowboy Poetry Gathering has grown from a few residents around the valley

swapping stories over some shared chili to one of the best in the country. The whole goal of the gathering is to preserve and honor the western way of life through music and odes to life on the trail. It’s the art that is keeping the stories and emotions of the west, and our own heritage, alive.

Having visual and performing arts programs in this valley has helped create a more stable and diversified economy. Art helps create feelings of safety and security in the community that attract investment.

Waldrip says the arts are a form of communication with a wide variety of dialects. Each person speaks and responds to a different dialect, but the arts’ ability to convey  motion and connection is universal. As the Heber Valley continues to grow and change over the next few years, she feels that an investment into the arts will be a way to communicate to one another on a deeper level, to inspire new ideas and keep what is loved about the Heber Valley.

For more information on upcoming events and ways to get involved with the arts in the HV, check out wasatchcountyarts.org.

By Noni Henderson

Driving along Casperville Road, you may notice the eye-catching memorabilia on display and wonder what exactly you are seeing. On this back road is a unique treasure trove of antiques, each with a story full of memories, history, and knowledge of our incredible valley, you likely won’t find anywhere else.

It was a gusty, freezing spring morning when I stopped at John Besendorfer’s Casperville Road Museum, as he calls it. I had dressed warmly, knowing that once we started the tour, there would be so much to see and talk about that I wouldn’t want to be distracted by the chill. In the few hours I was there, I heard a lot of fascinating details; I would have needed days to hear all the stories and history John is so generous to share.

John was born and raised on this family farm established in 1889 by his pioneer grandparents, who built the barn when the area was nothing but sagebrush. The farm was one of the many dairies located within Wasatch County, until 2018 when, after 130 plus years, they closed the doors. Now there are only two active dairies left in the valley. John remembers no running water, no inside bathroom, or electricity growing up as a young boy, but there was plenty of hard work to keep everyone busy. John and his wife Jane raised seven children on the farm and had been harmoniously married for 52 years until Jane’s passing two years ago.

John and Jane ran the farm together with Jane taking over while he taught school during the day. Over his 30-year teaching career in Midway and Heber, John taught 1,000 students and knew every person in the valley, which would have been 3,000 people at the time. With John’s knowledge of the valley’s residents and the couple’s love of history, it was only natural that their farm soon filled with antique artifacts. It was inevitable that John and Jane would heed the call to preserve history, and that is precisely what they have done. Although Jane no longer accompanies John while he leads the tour, one can’t help but feel her presence, as if she might suddenly appear to tell you the stories that only she knew of certain items.

The museum’s collection began with wooden wagon wheels from a family inheritance. Fifty years later, there are enough artifacts to fill eight to ten buildings. One of their more significant projects was a pioneer home that was carefully transported from Charleston using railroad jacks and a semi-trailer. Their collections are impressive and have been added to by way of yard sales, estate sales, and anything for sale that caught their attention, along with various generous donations.

As we walked and talked, John happily told the stories behind each item. There were stories of guns and swords found locally, swans, sleds and bottles, and a replica of a fire engine that he helped build. Stories about a “hair loomed” heirloom made from real hair, horse bones, and a collection of over 100 wrenches. If only the stamp collection and compilation of Heber high school graduating class pictures (probably the only one in the valley) could talk — what stories would they tell? You’ll find both in the “School House” building.

The list of artifacts goes on and on, with many holding special meaning. John’s favorite is his great grandfather’s Mormon Battalion uniform, sword, and cane that he inherited. Having come through both the Mexican War and the Black Hawk war, the artifacts are close to John’s heart and too valuable to be displayed publicly, but he still loves talking about their stories.

John’s family lives close by; his son lives next to him, and two other children live in the valley. His older brother lives on the other side of him with his own smaller collection of buildings and memorabilia.

Since the dairy is no longer there to draw in weekly visitors, John keeps busy every day and has had time to expand the museum by adding a few more themed rooms. Though they are a constant work in progress, he hopes to have the rooms ready for visitors this summer.

One of the most incredible things about John, besides his amazing memory, is his peaceful and sharing spirit. The museum came to be because he and Jane “felt the spirit of preservation, felt a spiritual prompting and power of guidance to do so.”

If you are fortunate to know someone from John’s generation, you know it’s always so interesting to talk about the experiences of their lifetime. John says it’s a privilege for him to have all this history for others to enjoy. To have them look at something and remember simpler times of their childhood and the sheer happiness it brings them. “This museum is to share, and if it can be an education, answer a question, enlighten about the past, then it has served its purpose — it’s multi-purpose.”

People like John and his family are our connections to the past. Their wealth of information keeps our community’s stories alive in our hearts. We need these connections, especially as the world changes with each passing day, and new residents move in and wonder about our rich history. Wasatch County is lucky to have the Casperville museum — go for a drive and take a tour. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone as passionate or as knowledgeable about our entire valley’s history, families, and roots as John Besendorfer on Casperville Road.

Local’s Tip: Please call ahead for reservations 435-654-1459. Although not asked for, the museum would not decline donations.