How do I sum up one man’s life in a few short pages, especially one who has lived a life as full of adventure and service as Jerry Springer? I don’t. All I can do is capture bits and pieces – the moments in time that stand out – and hope those stories honor this man who has touched so many lives.
Jerry’s first experience in life began with an adventure. His parents, Beryl and Tura Springer, were living in a tent cabin community near Mammoth Lakes, California. Beryl, like his father, Jeremiah (Jerry) Robey Springer, and his grandfather, Nathan Chatman Springer, was a miner, working at the Cardinal Mine in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. As if being born in a mining community wasn’t exciting enough, Jerry decided to take things up a notch. Jerry Robert Springer made his debut in Bishop, CA, on January 21, 1937, right in the middle of a massive snowstorm! Getting to and from the hospital was challenging. Due to the heavy snowfall and record-cold temperatures, two neighbors tried but could not start their cars.
Jerry recalls his mother telling him, “It was quite difficult, as big as I was, to keep getting in and out of cars. It became hilarious; in fact, by the time I got to the third car, I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes.’” The roads coming home from the hospital were impassible, and the Cardinal Company had to send a snow plow to clear the roads and tow the Springer’s car back to the mining camp. They were the last two vehicles to travel the canyon until mid-February. Once at their home, Beryl and several friends had to “[…] dig a snow trench and tunnel over six feet high and more than 30 feet long from the road to the cabin door.” That experience was probably not much different than the ones they would have while ‘digging out’ roads and driveways at their home base in Midway, Utah. Midway was home to several mining families, especially during the Depression. The husbands would work in California, Argentina, Mexico, or wherever they could find work, while the wives stayed in Midway.
Although Jerry spent his early years living in various mining camps in California, Nevada, and Park City, Midway has been home to the Springer families since the late 1800s when their ancestors, Captain Cornelius A. Springer and Elizabeth (Bess) Moser Springer, first settled in the Heber Valley. Beryl purchased property in Midway (now 71 South 200 West) in 1939, eventually building a home in 1941. The home was unique because it was constructed of wooden ammunition boxes, using sawdust for insulation. Like many miners, Beryl split his time between farming and mining, and Jerry only lived in this particular home for a short time while Beryl and Tura built a home across the street. During his elementary school days, Jerry lived in Midway and spent his summers out of town wherever Beryl was mining. By the late 1940s, the Springer’s moved to Pleasant Grove, where Jerry would graduate from Pleasant Grove High School in 1955.
Within a few years of his birth, Jerry was joined by a brother, Richard, and a sister — whom he adored — Norma Jean (Jeannie). Jeannie and Jerry shared a special bond, “She was a great gal. We did a lot of things together.” Jerry chuckles as he remembers, “We double-dated; she’d have a girlfriend that didn’t have a boyfriend, and she’d say, ‘I’ve got a brother.’” Jerry pauses for a moment before continuing, “It’s kind of hard to talk about her.” He then shared that on Christmas Day, 1956, while riding in a car with a friend, they were hit by a drunk driver, and Jeannie was severely injured. During the 1950s, ambulances looked more like station wagons. Jerry’s friend was the driver, and he let him crawl in the back to be close to Jeannie. Norma Jean Springer passed away in the ambulance while en route to the hospital in Salt Lake City, just 16 days before her 17th birthday. It was an earth-shattering event for Jerry and his family, and Christmas Day has never been the same. While the ache of loss never really leaves us, we discover how to treasure the memories of those moments and look toward the future. And Jerry had scores of moments and memories ahead of him.
Following in his ancestor’s footsteps, Jerry began working at the mines when he was 15 as a Nipper. Jerry explains, “My father was a hard rock miner. […] He worked underground, where they had to blast, going after metals like gold, silver, and copper. I was what they called a ‘Nipper,’ that’s a person who would work with the underground miners. We’d keep them provided with water; we had to use water to keep the dust down while they drilled. We’d get the dynamite and make sure that it went down the hole, and whatever other tasks they needed.” After high school graduation, Jerry would return to California, mining near his birthplace in Mammoth Lakes to help pay for college. Jerry also worked at mines in Park City, Snake Creek, and Mayflower. He states, “We were cheap, and we were careful, and that’s what they wanted.”
Through the years, Jerry developed a deep love and passion for education, western and local history, photography, service, and his community. This enthusiasm would help to shape the rest of his life. Jerry attended Utah State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s in history. While attending USU, Jerry met Karen Rae Knight. Karen was from Woodland, Utah, and shared Jerry’s passion for education, service, and eventually Wasatch County. Jerry and Karen were married on March 15, 1963, and had six children: CheriLynne, Trent, Raechelle, Sarah, Hazel, and Robyn. Although the couple would later divorce, they shared an amicable relationship. One of the family’s favorite memories was when all the siblings and their spouses took a trip to New York City with Jerry and Karen. Jerry doesn’t like flying and jokingly told one of his daughters, “I’ve gone this far (70 years); why not go the rest of my life without flying.” As the adage says, ‘Love conquers all,’ and Jerry’s first commercial flight was for his kids! He shares, “It was beautiful flying over the area.” Then he chuckles, “I wish the plane tilted a little more so that we could get a better view.” Apparently, Jerry has quite a sense of humor and loves to tease. A prime example of this was when they went to see the Statue of Liberty. As they were going through security with their cameras, Jerry kept asking, ‘Did you shoot that?’ Did you shoot that?’ The fun continued as they arrived at the ferry. It was raining, and everyone was in a hurry. Each time Jerry tried to go through security, the alarms would go off. He emptied every pocket, took off his coat, and tried everything until they figured out that it was the metal clips on his suspenders underneath his shirt. Jerry recalls, “It was a fun trip.” Jerry’s children credit him for their ability to laugh when things get hard and describe Jerry as fun and spunky.
Jerry’s ‘spunkiness’ was evident even as a young boy. His Aunt and Uncle, Pauline and Joseph Erwin, were the original owners of Luke’s Hot Pots Resort in Midway (now Midway Mountain Spa/Ameyalli Spa Wellness Resort). Both Pauline and Joe had a lot of connections in the entertainment industry. Jerry recalls, “Pauline was a hair model, and Joe played professional baseball, wrote songs, and was in movies.” The couple’s friendship with big names like Roy Rogers and Virginia Mayo helped the Hot Pots become a major attraction for Hollywood celebrities and other entertainers. And spunky ten-year-old Jerry couldn’t wait to be right in the middle of all the excitement. Jerry loved horses and was put in charge of helping with the horses at the resort. During this time, young Jerry got to meet a lot of Hollywood stars and entertainers, but Rogers and Mayo, were the ones who visited the most and remain etched in the nostalgia of Luke’s Hot Pots Resort. One of Jerry’s best memories of that time was getting to ride on a horse with Virginia Mayo.
Horses were a big part of Jerry’s life, and his fondness for them has led to many adventures. Jerry spent numerous summers saddle-packing the Wind River Range in Wyoming, the Thorofare region of Yellowstone to the Tetons, the eastern Sierras, and the Uinta mountains. While traversing the majestic peaks and inspiring wilderness, Jerry documented his travels and took amazing photographs. Jerry has had many of his writings and photographs featured in magazines like The Western Horseman, The Intermountain Quarter Horse, and Cutter & Chariot Racing World. His packing adventures initially began while Jerry was in college. During one summer break, he volunteered at Inyo National Forest in California and recalled, “We helped with everything from maintaining trails […] and taking the general public into the mountains. We were their guides and packed with horses. We also packed for those running cattle — we called ourselves Packers. I don’t remember the year, but it was a really special time and a lot of fun for a young single kid.” Inyo was near the mine where Jerry used to work with his dad. His experience working with horses there would be the catalyst for years of volunteer work with the National Parks and the National Forest Service. In 1967, Jerry joined the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Posse. When it was discovered that Jerry owned a boat, the Sheriff asked if he would join Search and Rescue — and of course, he did. However, most of Jerry’s time with SAR would be spent on the back of his horse, Smokey. Jerry recalls, “We rode horses year-round, even in the snow. We patrolled Deer Creek Reservoir and around the lakes in the Uintas. We found a lot of drowning victims – we were pretty successful at finding them, but it was difficult to get there in time.” It was a grueling and emotional task for the men. Jerry shares, “Horses have a real sense when you are riding them, especially when we were carrying living and non-living people.” Jerry also helped others with their equine escapades. You may or may not be aware that Heber used to host cutter and chariot races, and as can be expected, Jerry was involved with those too. His favorite memories with horses involve riding with his son, Trent, as they explored the mountains and forests he loved. His excursions on horseback inspired Jerry as he combined his passion for the outdoors and history, creating hundreds and hundreds of lectures. Jerry spent 20+ years traveling with his kids to the national and state parks and forests in Utah, California, and Nevada. They would set up camp, and Jerry would present on mining, the fur trade, or national and state parks. Jerry’s children spent their summers visiting mining sites and camping all over the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. Many of them love camping because of these experiences.
While at home, Jerry settled into his daily routines and community service projects. Jerry worked for the State Office of Rehabilitation as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor in Heber and later in Provo. He enjoyed working with individuals who found it difficult to get a good job due to various mental and physical struggles. Jerry shares, “We were serious about what we were doing. We made sure that they were comfortable with the work they wanted. Many of those I worked with didn’t have arms or legs, and they trusted us to help them find work.” Jerry’s brother Richard also worked as a Vocational Rehab Counselor, and the brothers found a lot of happiness and satisfaction in helping others succeed. Jerry also enjoyed success in his endeavors. He built a beautiful home for his family in the same spot where his grandparents home used to sit. And, just like he enjoyed playing on his grandparent’s large front porch as a child, Jerry’s children would enjoy the “giant front porch” of their home. Jerry’s involvement and volunteer work in Wasatch County extends generations of Springer family service. Beryl and Tura were involved with creating the Midway Boosters Club in 1947; Jerry’s grandparents and Aunt and Uncle also became members.
While part of the Booster Club, the Springer family joined forces with the Kohler family to create a beautiful float for the first Harvest Days Parade. Six years later, in 1953, it was decided to switch the focus of Harvest Days to a Swiss theme, and Midway’s very first Swiss Days was created. Jerry’s grandfather was one of the five-person committee who oversaw the first event; Jeremiah and Lydia Springer were listed as ‘Patrons of the first Midway Swiss Days.’ The Springer’s volunteered the use of their three-acre pasture west of the Ice Rink on Town Square as a parking area until the 1980s. Naturally, Jerry would continue to be involved with Swiss Days as an adult and served as the chairman of the Swiss Days Committee for three years. He was the first chairman allowed to pick which vendors could go in the square. Jerry has fond memories of these days and remembers “[…] spending the night in a sleeping bag next to the large Swiss Days fire pit with friends to make sure nobody would fall in it.” Three of his daughters were Swiss Miss Royalty, and in 2013, Jerry was chosen as Midway’s Honored Citizen and took part in the Swiss Days parade. Jerry’s deep love for Wasatch County, especially his hometown of Midway, is apparent through his acts of service.
Anybody can make history. It takes a great man to write it. – Oscar Wilde
During his lifetime, Jerry has served on committees for the Midway Town Hall Restoration Committee and the Wasatch County Fair. He was also a special appointee of the Mayor as a member of the Midway Historic Preservation Committee, and was a frequent contributor to the Midway Newsletter. Jerry has been an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving in various callings like Ward Historian, Ward Clerk, and Assistant Scout Master. Many scouts have fond memoires of their backpacking, hiking, and camping ventures. Jerry’s educational endeavors included teaching at Wasatch Junior and High schools (1963-1966), teaching History at Brigham Young University, and teaching at Elderhostel programs for BYU and UVU at the Homestead Resort in Midway, the Chateau Après Lodge in Park City, and Snowbird Lodge at Brighton. Helping others receive a good education has always been important to Jerry; Utah State University has two scholarships, one in geology and one in business, set up in the Springer name. Jerry created several historical mining displays (some permanent) for Midway Elementary, Heber Valley Senior Citizen Center, the Heber City offices, the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, the Sons of Utah Pioneers, and at the visitor centers at Jordanelle State Park and Wasatch Mountain State Park.
Most Wasatch County residents know Jerry Springer as the ‘town historian,’ and for good reason. Jerry has spent decades compiling and collecting photos, articles, letters and notes, artifacts, memorabilia, and a plethora of other items of interest, from mining to Utah’s past and the Old West to Wasatch County’s history. Jerry meticulously arranged everything that could tell a story in the last home he built and lived in, near the property that originally hosted Luke’s Hot Pots. It is here that my family was first introduced to Jerry. While out for a drive, my husband and son passed Jerry’s home. He was outside and flagged them down — they stopped — and before long Jerry had invited them into his home. (I learned later that ‘inviting others in’ was a common event for Jerry.) Hours later the two returned home and excitedly told me about this amazing man they had just met, they showed me pictures of what I could only describe as an incredible in-home museum. I immediately wanted to meet Jerry and write his story — I had no idea what I would discover. To write Jerry’s life story would take years and fill volumes. Those lucky enough to know Jerry well are probably nodding and smiling to themselves right about now — a true testament to the lives he has touched. To say that he has had an enormous impact on Wasatch County residents and visitors would be an understatement. Many may not even realize that they’ve benefited from Jerry’s countless labors of love. When I finally had the privilege of interviewing Jerry, a few of his daughters, who live nearby, were able to join us. The one thing that stood out the most to me was the love that permeated the room. Our conversations were full of smiles, tender reflections, a few tears, and a lot of laughter. As stories were shared, Jerry would interject with comments like, “That’s alright, you can’t embarrass me,” and “I don’t know what stories she’s telling you, but there sure is a lot of laughing,” or my personal favorite, “Well, I’ve never been in Jail.” Actually, my favorite statement and moment was when one of Jerry’s daughters said, “Oh, Dad! We are so proud of you! And it’s really fun to brag about you for a little while.” With tears welling up, Jerry quietly responded, “Thank you.” Although there is a lot to ‘brag’ about, as Jerry has received many awards, honors, and accolades for his contributions and service hours, I believe his greatest accomplishments can be measured within the hearts and memories of his children.
Recently, his children made sure that Jerry had the opportunity to visit the Springer Farms’ new farmhouse. After 86 years, Jerry has come full circle from walking in the space of the original home his great-grandmother, Matilda Robey Springer, built, and his father later grew up in, to visiting the new space his 2nd cousin, David Springer, helped design and build — a tender moment I’m sure. And one that, in typical Jerry fashion, has been documented in writing and captured with photographs. Jerry has spent his life devoted to sharing the history of places and people, and I hope that this brief but heartfelt ‘history’ of his life is, in some small measure, an honorable tribute to Jerry Robert Springer.