Skip to main content

Midvale Journal

Memories shine on for Midvale fourth-graders who decorated governor’s mansion

Feb 03, 2023 09:24AM ● By Julie Slama

After decorating a tree in the governor’s mansion, Midvale Elementary students await for Gov. Spencer Cox to place the star atop of the tree, but the topper insisted on being “a shooting star.” (Photos courtesy of Sara Caldwell/Midvale Elementary)

While the sparkly silver balls and glittery gold-framed photo ornaments may be put away, the shining memories of decorating the governor’s Christmas tree may be lingering on in the memories of 29 Midvale Elementary fourth-grade students.

It was the first trip to the Kearns Mansion for many of the nine- and 10-year-old students. Not only did they learn a bit of Utah history (more than their fourth-grade curriculum) when they heard U.S. Sen. Thomas Kearns built the French château-esque home in 1902 after making his fortune silver mining in nearby Park City, but they were also able to tour a couple floors of the 32-room official residence of the governor’s family.

For many students, a highlight may not only have been posing in feathered-headbands and pearls or sporting hats and fake moustaches for black-and-white photo ornaments they created for the 1920s-theme tree, but for getting to interact firsthand with Gov. and First Lady Spencer and Abby Cox.

Many of the kids posed questions, including asking about his cowboy hats hanging in the room, and a few of the students who are bilingual or are studying Spanish at their dual immersion school, spoke in Spanish with the governor.

“One of our Spanish-speaking students who only speaks Spanish as he is new to our country, was totally attached to the governor as soon as he learned he speaks Spanish,” Midvale Elementary Assistant Principal Sara Caldwell said. “He was just totally attached to him the entire time and had all kinds of questions for him. They talked about some of the artwork that was upstairs on the third floor. His artwork is diverse, and I believe one of the pieces that he had was from Hispanic artists. It was neat that he was able to communicate with that with our Hispanic students.”

Another student who had a law enforcement coin from where his grandfather worked presented it to the governor. Caldwell said Cox was pleasantly surprised and traded it with his gubernatorial coin with the youngster.

The students gathered on the floor near the former teacher, Abby Cox, who read Colin McNaughton’s book, “Suddenly.” 

“The kids were excited, and they loved it. They don’t get that opportunity a lot and not as much now that they’re in fourth grade. So, they really enjoyed that, and their full attention was on her,” Caldwell said.

While the entire fourth grade was invited in early November to share in this experience, Caldwell said it was offered to students who were in good academic standing and had regular attendance since there was limited space on the bus and in the mansion’s library, where they decorated the tree.

Abby Cox had selected the 1920s theme which was carried throughout the mansion. Before their visit, students helped create the greenery and pearl fireplace mantel piece as well as giant ornaments that were placed in the fireplace itself. Signage and even the tree skirt identified the creativity of students’ projects, which was under the direction of the school’s head administrative assistant, Jeri Jorgensen.

Perhaps the crowning moment came when the governor, who stands more than 6 feet tall, tried and tried again and again to place the star at the top of the tree, but instead, the star insisted on leaning.

“He was having a hard time getting it to stay up there and it was kind of funny because he was really trying to get it straight,” Caldwell said. “Then, one of the students just said, ‘It’s OK; it’s a shooting star.’ He laughed and agreed, so he kept it that way.”

This was the second time students have been invited to decorate the governor’s tree in Canyons School District history. In 2018, Brookwood fourth-graders decorated the tree for Gov. Gary Herbert.