Treasure hunters prospecting the basement of Eugene Jelesnik's home have come away with booty by the truckload, all hauled away to the Utah State Historical Society Archives and Museum.
It started with a simple request."The museum asked me to donate my music and artifacts for a special exhibit," Jelesnik, 82, told the Deseret News. "They asked me last year, and with the help of my stepson (Larry Brown), who looks after all my stuff, we began moving things two weeks ago."
The museum will honor Jel-es-nik, who first visited Salt Lake City in 1938 and moved here in 1945, with a display that will open later this summer. Costumes, sheet music, transcripts, contracts, programs, photos and instruments will be exhibited throughout the museum, 300 S. Rio Grande.
"I also gave them my audio and visual tapes of `Talent Showcase,' " said Jelesnik, who's hosted the TV star search for decades. "It just seemed the right time and place to do it. For years the University of Utah and Brigham Young University have been asking me to give them things, but I really wanted to give it to a museum where people can get a closer look at the things rather than have them stuffed in a file somewhere.
"At first I felt a little apprehensive," Jelesnik said. "But the museum is working with me. They're letting me inspect everything that's going. You know, it's personal stuff. And let me tell you, these people are the most organized and meticulous people I've ever worked with.
"You see, I'm a pack rat. There is so much in my house that I don't know what to do with it all. If I kept keeping things the way I do, I'd have to get another house.
"I think the most cherished item I'm donating is my music library," he said. "It's got everything I've done since I've been here. And I look forward to making more music in the future."
For 66 years, Jelesnik has treated Utah audiences to free concerts with the Salt Lake Philharmonic Orchestra, and he was one of the first promoters bringing performing acts into the area. He also served on, and is still first vice president of, the Days of `47 celebration board.
In 1938 Jelesnik's manager received a letter from Salt Lake City requesting an orchestra. After talking with his musicians, Jelesnik agreed to come to Utah for four months.
"I was first hypnotized by the mountains," remembered Jel-es-nik. "And the people were wonderful - still are. Well, we ended up staying for 10 months. And when I left, I told myself I'd be back to live. Seven years later I did. I have no regrets. If I had the chance to do it all over, I'd do it all the same."
Then he chuckled, "Because it worked."
In addition to Utah, Jelesnik carried music to troops all over the world in more than 19 USO tours. He performed with Frank Sinatra and Martha Raye and buddied around with G.I. Red Skelton.
"All these years, I've never taken a day off," said Jelesnik, who continues to work with KSL-TV and produces the ice-skating shows that come through town. "I stopped doing the philharmonic concerts because I wanted to live a few more years."
When asked what his life would have been like if he'd never come to Utah, Jelesnik thought a few seconds, laughed and quipped, "I probably would have been robbed."
An idea that would give the museum treasure hunters the shakes for sure.