‘Beloved mayor,’ trailblazer dies after serving Midvale 68 years
Jul 01, 2020 01:08PM
By Julie Slama
Former Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini, seen here in her office, in the same building where 19 other pictures of Midvale mayors – all men – hang on the wall. (Photo courtesy of Midvale City)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Overlooking I-15 in the heart of Salt Lake Valley is an electronic billboard paying tribute to a beloved mayor, just days after JoAnn Seghini died.
Seghini served two decades as Midvale mayor and three terms as city council member—as well as serving as an elementary teacher then up to an assistant superintendent over curriculum for Jordan School District.
She was 82.
An outpouring of tributes came about from the community, friends and colleagues when news hit that Midvale’s first female mayor and first female city councilwoman died June 19 after suffering several recent strokes. Seghini retired from the helm of the city 2 1/2 years ago.
Current Midvale Mayor Robert Hale posted on the city’s Facebook site: “Mayor Seghini was a dedicated public servant who served Midvale for more than 68 years.”
It continued with “Using her endless energy, she led, uplifted, and championed the residents, non-profits and businesses of Midvale City.”
Former city council member and current planning and zoning member Colleen Costello said helping was “part of her DNA.”
“She always had this ability that she could help—whatever she can do, wherever she could, her door was always open,” said Costello, who spent the last 40 years working alongside her. “She poured her heart into everything.”
City Manager Kane Loader, who knew Seghini for more than 30 years, agreed.
“She always looked out for those who were the most in need,” he said. “Midvale is the city with the heart.”
Seghini championed to have The Road Home overflow shelter in Midvale, along with the LifeStart Village transitional housing, a women’s and children’s shelter and build up the Midvale Boys & Girls Club.
Wasatch Property Management CEO Dell Loy Hansen worked with Seghini on city housing projects for seniors and the homeless.
“Mayor Seghini was one of those people that you meet in life that has the ability to see what people need and knows how to effectively fulfill those needs through government,” he said.
In fact, it is in Jordan Bluffs on a former EPA Superfund site he’s developing where a street is named after her.
Midvale’s slag site was listed on the EPA Superfund list for 24 years before being removed five years ago.
Costello’s father worked in the smelter until it closed in 1958.
“It looked like a pile of black mountains,” she said. “We were actually the poster child for the EPA. Midvale has absolutely prospered with her at the helm.”
The redevelopment site has led to businesses relocating to Midvale, offering the community thousands of jobs, Midvale City Economic Development Director Christopher Butte said.
He said Seghini led the 1996 annexation of of Union Fort and South Union Fort that doubled the size of Midvale in land and population.
“She had to tackle difficult issues,” Butte said. “It put Midvale on the grid.”
While serving as mayor—after working for Jordan School District for 36 years—she would be known to slip into an elementary classroom to read and support Hillcrest’s performing arts programs.
In 2017, she told the Midvale Journal, “I’ve had many titles, but the one I am the most proud of is teacher.”
However, her hardest decision, Loader said, involved her loyalty to Jordan District during the issue of the district split and formation of the Canyons District. Part of the issue of staying with Jordan District was Midvale’s secondary school students would be bused to West Jordan as their schools were to be torn down.
“She said, ‘I’m going to stay neutral on this until I hear from the people and how the people want to vote,’” he said. “Once the decision was made, she jumped in with both feet; she put full effort into making Canyons School District happen. She said it was the best decision for the people of Midvale.”
Seghini was proud when two new schools were constructed, and two others began their rebuilds.
Costello said it was the teacher in her that “always saw the potential” in people.
About 15 years ago, Seghini wanted more high school students to have that opportunity and changed the Miss Midvale pageant to the Midvale Youth Ambassador scholarship program “to emphasize the importance of education and service to the community,” said Candy Tippets, who was the Youth Ambassador volunteer director and now serves on the city’s planning and zoning committee. “She wanted it to be more inclusive. She wanted the underserved populations to be served. She cared about Midvale.”
It’s the city where she grew up and returned to raise her two sons as a single mother, Costello said. Seghini’s first job was at Vincent Drug on Main Street where she served milkshakes and malts.
Costello, eight years younger than Seghini, went to school with her brother, John. Seghini’s father, Ben Bagley, was an attorney for the city and her mother was active in civic clubs and organizations.
“JoAnn went to Jordan High (and had all her high school credits so) by the age of 16, she started at the University of Utah,” she said.
While wearing poodle skirts and saddle shoes, writing for the Beetdiggers’ newspaper and being on the debate team, Seghini was accepted on an early admission scholarship sponsored by the Ford Foundation. She went on to earn her master’s and doctorate degrees.
“She was brilliant; she was absolutely brilliant,” Loader said. “She could pick things up so quickly. She was just very perceptive.”
She also knew how to work with others and how to get them to work together, he said.
“She was the voice of reason on the City Council,” he said. “There was always contention on the council between members themselves and the mayor and they would put her in the middle of things to calm things down. That was the first thing I noticed about her is her ability to bring out civility and respect.”
Costello said she was officially a part-time mayor, but full-time by commitment and her love for the city.
Loader remembers when Seghini was recuperating from surgery during her last mayoral term, he filled in attending the government-related boards and commissions of the 34 boards Seghini was active in—and said he was “frazzled.” He asked how she did it. Her answer: “’You got to love it.’ She loved serving the people,” he said. “She’s the most conscientious public servant I’ve ever known.”
That service stems from her faith, Costello said, who was active in Saint Therese Catholic Church with Seghini.
U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams agreed Seghini’s dedication came from “deep religious faith and really believed putting that belief into action. Mayor Seghini is one of the most caring and compassionate people I’ve ever met. She brings a sense of duty and caring to the job and it was contagious. She inspired all of us (mayors of cities and the county) to be better people, better public servants. She would always encourage us to pause, to think about why we are doing what we are doing and usually have us come together.”
McAdams said his “dear friend and mentor” worried children in the Boys & Girls Club wouldn’t have proper attire for the summertime recreation, so Seghini headed up a drive to provide them the needed supplies and clothing.
“She was always aware, always making it a kinder, gentler place,” he said. “She earned respect; she didn’t pound her fist. She didn’t compromise her values. There were no limits where she could go (to serve in office). She was happy serving Midvale. She moved Midvale forward in ways that the city will see successes for decades to come.”
For more on the full story of Seghini and her life can be found at midvalejournal.com.