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Midvale Journal

Celebrating a lifelong commitment: Tributes to Canyons School Board VP

Apr 09, 2024 11:42AM ● By Julie Slama

Without a second thought, Canyons Board of Education member Mont Millerberg jumped into the excavator to “move some dirt” at the groundbreaking of Midvalley Elementary in April 2019. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Five years ago this month, Canyons Board of Education member Mont Millerberg jumped onto an excavator.

He was wearing a gray suit and tie and dress shoes that slid a bit in the muddy ground on what had recently been a grassy field at Midvalley Elementary.

Music was blaring as the announcer asked, “Are we ready for a countdown to move some dirt on this brand new home of the Junior Huskies?”

Before the countdown expired, Millerberg had already figured out how to move the scoop to grab dirt for the first ceremonial dig of the new Midvalley Elementary. When the countdown quickened, he pivoted the steel arm to the right. Then, after the crowd finished 3, 2, 1, he swung it back to drop the dirt in the same spot. He got a second scoop and received applause from one of the largest crowds in recent history to watch a groundbreaking.

“Right before the groundbreaking started, he leaned over and showed me the keys and said, ‘I’ve arranged for you to be able to use the excavator to dig dirt; it’s going to be so much fun,’” former Midvalley Principal Tamra Baker said. “I told him, ‘There’s no way for me to do that without having tried.’ He had a twinkle in his eye, and I could see the 10-year-old boy awaken in him. He hopped right up there, didn’t give it a second thought that he hadn’t done it before, and shoveled some dirt. The kids thought it was great. I laughed the whole time. I admired him very much. He was fun; always quick with a joke. He was a faithful public servant who knew what needed to be done and was willing to sacrifice a tremendous amount of time to make it happen.”

Millerberg died unexpectedly Feb. 23 following complications from a stroke. He was the Canyons Board of Education vice president, having been elected to the inaugural Canyons School Board in 2008, then re-elected in 2016 and 2020. He served District 1, which included most Midvale schools and Union Middle in Sandy.

He grew up and lived most of his life in that community and was influential in forming Canyons, the first new school district in 100 years. 

“He was a committed community leader and fierce advocate” even winning over and forming an ally in former Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini, who had worked as a teacher and an assistant superintendent over curriculum in Jordan School District, with a promise to rebuild Midvale Elementary that had a coal-burning boiler, said Susan Edwards, Canyons’ public engagement and legislative liaison. “He fought for the students and to update those schools in the Midvale community. That was huge. He had so much pride in his community.”

Baker said he had a built-in resource that helped him guide his decisions on what was best for children.

“I remember him telling me once, “I am not an educator, but I sleep with one,’” Millerberg had told her with a smile, referring to his wife, Kris, who had taught at Union Middle. “Mont really listened and valued what you said and continually worked with students and teachers, and systems and schools to make things better.”

As a youngster, Millerberg visited his grandparents and great-grandparents in a neighborhood south from Midvalley Elementary, where on school grounds, he would fly his model airplane early in the morning, much to the chagrin of the neighbors who “would call the police because the motors are very loud,” he said. 

Millerberg said he grabbed his stuff and headed out the school’s back gate not to get caught and thought he got away with it—until a sign showed up prohibiting flying model airplanes on school grounds.

As kids, Paul Glover lived three houses away from Millerberg on State Street and went through school—Midvale Elementary, Midvale Middle and Hillcrest High—together. As kids, they often jumped on Millerberg’s trampoline and were in the same Boy Scout troop.

“We camped; made trouble; did flips on the trampoline, just did things that kids do,” Glover said. “He was always on top of his schoolwork. He ended up being an accountant, a CPA.”

Millerberg worked in several accounting firms before opening his own practice, Millerberg & Myers. He had studied accounting at Weber State University.

What the community noted most was his dedication to Hillcrest, his high school alma mater, where he had played football, sang in the choir and played drums in a band with friends.

“I have always felt that he has a special place in his heart for our school,” said Stacey Timmerman, Hillcrest school community council chair. “He had a special loyalty to Hillcrest. He was a great listener and would come to the SCC meetings and want to know our perspective, our needs on Hillcrest. He was a huge advocate for Hillcrest, and I’d always see him at Hillcrest events—a lot of sporting events and almost every theater performance.”

Hillcrest High Principal Greg Leavitt agrees.

“Mont was a cheerleader of Hillcrest in the education process and making sure Midvale got its fair share,” he said. “He was integral in making sure the bonds (2010 and 2017) were passed.”

During Millerberg’s time on the board, Canyons invested $270 million, or roughly 35%, of its bond money on improvements for Midvale-area schools.

“He was passionate about making sure the schools in the community were rebuilt. He came to every planning meeting for this school and was gracious asking our opinion and making sure the teachers got what they wanted. It was important to him to make sure we had a say in what we’d like and need and made sure the District knew,” Hillcrest High Principal Greg Leavitt said.

Leavitt said Millerberg also made it a point to highlight students whether it was taking part in a mock interview in a hallway or helping to arrange for a memorable escort to the school for the state-winning theater program last spring. 

The two worked closely “spending hours talking about what’s best for Hillcrest, the kids, the teachers” and also, when the time came to tear down the former school where Millerberg attended, to help decide artifacts to save and be incorporated in the new design.

Hillcrest High Alumni Association President Craig Conder credits Millerberg for getting the former school building’s bricks and sections of the basketball floor for the alumni to sell as a fundraiser and to install in the athletics hallway.

“I remember Greg (Leavitt) telling me that the district said they wouldn’t do that, but I knew people would want them,” he said. “Turned out Mont pulled strings because his class, 1968, was the year Hillcrest took state in basketball. Next thing I knew, Greg tells me, ‘We’ve got some pieces here in our woodshop you can come get.’ Part of the deal was giving Mont 50 feet of it. I don’t know what he ended up doing with it, but I’m grateful we got it.”

Millerberg was instrumental in establishing the Canyons Education Foundation.

“We wouldn’t have Canyons Education Foundation without his enthusiasm,” said former Canyons Board member Paul McCarty. “He was dedicated to the children and personally went to different businesses and got commitments. He was a fantastic CPA who gave us guidance in the early beginnings of the district before we hired a chief financial officer. He was always on top of it asking, ‘Where is the money coming from?’”

Each year, a golf tournament is held to help fundraise for the foundation, and in his true fashion, Millerberg would show up in his trademark shorts and sandals to Wasatch Mountain State Park, even when it was below freezing. 

It was one of his favorite events; Millerberg started it.

“He always found a way to use the things that brought him joy, to build relationships with people that he worked with so that he understood them and got to know them better. I was with him at the state foundation conference, and he insisted we go shooting at the skeet range. He did a lot of head shaking, but it is one of my fondest memories and a bonding moment for us,” Edwards said, adding that he also went pheasant hunting with board members.

Millerberg was known to be a straight talker.

Jordan Board of Education President Tracy Miller, who served on the Utah School Boards Association Board of Directors with him, said, “Mont was a fierce advocate for kids and our public schools. In tough discussions, he wasn’t afraid to speak up and say what needed to be said.”

Edwards remembers Millerberg getting his point across at a Canyons board meeting.

“We were discussing something at a board meeting and he knew it was going to be tense and he knew that he was maybe not going to be on the majority on this,” she said. “He was dressed in his normal suit, but partway through the meeting, he unbuttoned that shirt and had a T-shirt on under it that said, I am getting ‘pisseder’ and ‘pisseder.’ That remained our mantra for Mont. He would call us out, ‘I’m feeling like you’re telling me what I want to hear. I’m asking for the facts. Tell it to me straight.’ He’d do that so he could make the best decisions for the schools, the teachers, the staff and the students of Canyons.”

McCarty said Millerberg’s sense of humor could often ease stressful times.

“There were times when the discussion was getting quite intense, which was often in the early birth pains of the school district, and Mont would crack a joke,” he said. “It was always an appropriate opine on what we were discussing. It would just crack us up and ease the tension in the room. He had a wonderful way of canceling out all those other feelings with humor and get us to refocus.”

Millerberg was the person to ask if someone wanted something done. 

When RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath visited Midvale Elementary and learned many students couldn’t afford tickets to a soccer game, he arranged for tickets to be donated. When Millerberg learned this, he was instrumental in arranging free transportation to the stadium for the Midvale families.

It was the community that was at the heart of his work. Many years, he would wave to his neighbors along the Midvale Harvest Days parade, never missing the opportunity to listen to someone or share about what was happening in schools.

Millerberg was often in the schools. His reach was far. He’d volunteer to help Union eighth graders learn to balance their checkbooks as part of Reality Town, a simulation of real life, then be seen at a Family Learning Center recognition. When Jordan Valley got a new chameleon mascot in 2021, Millerberg took a paper cut-out of him and sent the students photos of their mascot biking the Virgin River Trail in St. George.  

At last year’s Midvale Elementary literacy night, he rotated to the different stations along with the students.

“I love to see what’s going on inside our schools, to see what the kids are learning, what’s being taught,” he had said.

Canyons Board of Education Vice President Amanda Oaks said he had a deep commitment to the Midvale community.

“With all his skills and talents, he could have done anything in his retirement,” she said. “He chose to spend his time fully engaged in public service and worked especially hard for the populations of his community who needed a person of his strength and caliber to represent their interests. It’s humbling and inspiring to think of all of children whose lives have been positively impacted by his work on the board of education.”

Millerberg wasn’t one who wanted the limelight, McCarty said.

“He’s a very humble individual who worked his heart out. He had a huge heart and was generous with his time and his own funds,” McCarty said. “He had the institutional knowledge and was a true leader.”

Millerberg served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Zurich, Switzerland. He and his wife also served a mission in an intercity Salt Lake City ward, where he met and befriended Sam McCall.

“Mont is just fun and he’s funny, just a neat guy; I got a kick out of him, and we’d go out golfing,” he said. “Every time I stopped by his house, he’d welcome me in, and we were always laughing. It was always a three-hour conversation with Mont that just flew by.”

Miller said Millerberg “was generous, personable and fun to be around. His impact was felt large and wide.”

Friends and neighbors remember him for sharing his homemade sourdough bread, which his six children remember never being able to eat the bread fast enough. It was often a staple for Sunday family dinners along with homemade ice cream and meat he smoked as Millerberg often quipped, “I have a smoking problem.”

The former National Guard serviceman could also be found with “my best friends,” what Millerberg called his 16 grandchildren as they went boating, skiing, biking and played Hearts. He had had no qualms playing to win cards. He often was remembered saying, “I play for fun; what’s not fun about winning?”

Millerberg served as a Boy Scout master for 12 years, in which he helped his sons perfect their pinewood derby cars. They recall spending hours making their cars ready to race. What he didn’t account for was his 8-year-old dripping his hot dog’s mustard and ketchup into the axles and wheels to spoil the anticipated victory.

Millerberg was known to be able to pack the family Suburban to perfection, tease his daughter’s first date by sitting on the porch with his shotgun and ensure each of his children and grandchildren set goals and did their homework.

He spoke to Hillcrest Class of 2023 at their graduation, even quipping they were most excited for him since he was the last speaker. 

He bid them simple, but meaningful advice: “Whatever you choose to do, do it well. Be good at what you do. Work hard, work smart and be diligent in what you do. Seek adventure, go do something fun, laugh. Keep moving, figure out where you are, where you want to be and where you want to go next.”

Canyons District is required to fill Millerberg’s vacancy within 45 days of his death according to state law. Applicants could apply for his seat by March 18. A new board member, who will serve the remainder of Millerberg’s term ending in December 2024, will be appointed by April 8. λ