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10 who made a difference in 2010

For many, 2010 was a tough year.

Unemployment hovered at around 8 percent for much of the year and the state faced an initial budget gap of $100 million. After cuts to state agencies and education, that deficit had been whittled down to $28 million. Things weren't much better in the private sector, where layoffs affected industries throughout the state. ATK was one of the hardest hit; the company laid off more than 1500 workers in 2010.

Despite the challenges and disappointments that defined life for thousands of Utahns in 2010, the year was also marked by stories of triumph and perseverance. The 10 people below, as much as anyone, are representative of the strength and resilience the state has to offer.

They are leaders — the youngest elected member of the U.S. Senate; the first female speaker of the Utah House — they are innovative thinkers — the man behind downtown Salt Lake's resurgence; the brain trust behind the state's ascendancy as a business mecca — and they are everyday heroes like Elizabeth Smart. Each will have a significant influence in our state for years to come. Collectively, they are reason to hope for a brighter 2011 and a symbol of the greatness Utah has to offer.

Jeremy Johnson

Jeremy Johnson has an uncanny way of playing both hero and villain — depending on who's telling his story. To his friends — a group that includes members of the search and rescue team in Washington County, widows and orphans in Haiti and families to whom he's privately given thousands of dollars — he is an angel on earth.

To his foes — a group that fluctuates, based on his latest antics, but most recently includes the FTC and the mayor of Rockville — he is a reckless egomaniac whose lawlessness has done as much harm as good.

Both may be true. It was Johnson's tenacity that spurred him to round up several of his friends, leave his home in St. George, and launch a spontaneous search and rescue mission in Haiti in January powered by his own money, private jet and helicopters.

Three days after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the country Jan. 12, paralyzing large-scale relief efforts by the United Nations and other groups, grounding flights at the airport, Johnson's party was already camped just over the border in the Dominican Republic with full access to the devastation in Haiti. He and his buddies freely flew back and forth between the countries in Johnson's three helicopters, ferrying injured people to hospitals, delivering medicine and getting food to starving orphans. They worked around the clock.

They flew to Costco in Florida to buy supplies, but when that wasn't practical, Johnson went straight to the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where pallets of beans and powdered milk were piled with no way of distribution. He grabbed the food and used his helicopters to drop it off at remote villages and orphanages where the roads were impassable.

"There's so much suffering," Johnson said on his third trip back to the country in February after the initial quake. "You just want to stop the hurt so bad."

Since then, Johnson has been involved in rebuilding a women's shelter and youth center in the country — and getting other volunteers involved in the effort. He's been back to Haiti at least seven times.

Still, Johnson found himself in some hot water this summer. The town of Rockville rewrote an ordinance forbidding helicopters after Johnson landed his craft near some property he recently purchased. And Johnson got some bad news just before Christmas that the FTC is suing him for fraud and allegedly scamming millions of dollars from people through one of his companies, I Works.

Johnson referred questions about the lawsuit to his lawyer.

— Amy Choate-Nielsen

Bruce Bingham

Bruce Bingham can't help but smile as he looks up at the finished product of years of hard work and planning. It's a cold December morning as he steps inside the gleaming 222 Main building, one of the new landmarks in a downtown Bingham has had a large hand in remaking. As he strides across the marble floor, he waves to the security guards. "The lights look nice. Good job," he tells one of the maintenance workers. He flicks a speck of dust off a coffee table in the lobby, and fluffs the pillows on the sofa. He is a man who takes pride in his work, and as a founding member of Hamilton Partners, the Chicago-based real-estate development company, Bingham has had as much to do with the revitalization of downtown Salt Lake as anyone.

The 222 Main building, the crowning jewel of the Salt Lake City branch of Hamilton Partners, was completed at the end of 2009, marking a huge accomplishment for the company as well as a cornerstone for a new downtown.

The building, which has more than 400,000 square feet of rentable space, has also been awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification for its effective use of energy, lighting and water. The sleek structure with its state-of-the art architectural design adds a fresh feel to downtown. It will soon become the headquarters for the Salt Lake City branch of Goldman Sachs, which has more than 1,150 workers. And Bingham's not done: Hamilton Partners is also working on renovating the old Boston Building as well as designing and constructing a new Performing Arts Center on Main Street in Salt Lake City.

Reshaping the heart of the city is about more than just real estate for Bingham. He served as president of the 2010 Days of '47 festivities and is on the executive board of the Downtown Alliance, where he helps head the English Skills learning center, a nonprofit organization that coordinates English tutoring for refugees and immigrants.

Before moving to Utah almost a decade ago, Bingham wasn't so sure he wanted to move his wife and four daughters here, but now insists that he "loves it here."

"Utah is a wonderful place in terms of the people here. There are wonderful, kind, hard-working people. And the governor's attitude towards business make this a great economic environment," said Bingham. "Salt Lake City has been called the Crossroads of the West, but it will become one of the crossroads of the world. We have answers to hard questions here."

— Kelly McConkie Henriod

Kevin Williams

In September, as the Machine Gun Fire shot its flames toward a hillside of homes in Herriman, it was hard to tell just what was on fire. There were bursts of light, clouds of smoke and an eerie, glowing red line that looked like it was devouring everything in its path. Somewhere against that wall of fire that night, Kevin Williams was frantically bulldozing.

On a rocky slope, with fire on one side and a cliff on the other, Williams pushed a fire line through the dirt and brush for 4.5 hours. It was dark, and he couldn't see well, but he just kept going.

"It was dark and it was smoky," he said of the ordeal. "I was a little scared."

As news reports of the fire came in that night, the toll of destroyed houses varied. Some said one or two homes were destroyed. Others said 15 or 20 were lost. But in the morning, when the smoke cleared, it was official that three homes were gone.

Williams' efforts were directly responsibly for saving 32 other homes that could have burned that night, and he wasn't even supposed to be there. Williams, lead environmental specialist for the Salt Lake County landfill, was at work on Sept. 19 when the Unified Fire Authority called to ask if there was a driver with a bulldozer who could come help.

Williams loaded up his equipment and drove it halfway across the valley before joining the firefighters. As a result of his efforts, Herriman residents and the City Council thanked him personally for the risks he took. The UFA praised him and called his actions "heroic."

"I wouldn't say I was a hero," Williams said after the fire. "I was just doing what I was told to do."

—Amy Choate-Nielsen

Mike Lee

Relatively unknown outside of political circles at the start of the year, the 39-year-old Alpine attorney Mike Lee rode a wave of voter discontent (and tea party support) to become the youngest elected member of the United States Senate. He also helped unseat three-term incumbent Bob Bennett in the process, dramatically shaking up the state of Utah politics.

Thanks to Lee's victory, political observers are already looking forward to 2012 and the possibility that Lee's neighbor and friend, Congressman Jasen Chaffetz, might make a run at Orrin Hatch's Senate seat.

Regardless of what happens in that race, Lee promises to bring a new perspective to Washington. The son of the late Rex Lee, a former BYU president, Lee spent much of his youth in Washington, D.C., where his father served as solicitor general under Reagan.

Today, Lee considers Reagan his ideological hero and he pines for the days of lower taxes and smaller government. Despite his naysayers, Lee believes he can bring radical change to D.C. He is opposed to earmarks, he's in favor of term limits for senators and he wants the federal government to balance its budget. Lee's ability to keep these promises just might determine how long he stays in Washington.

—Jesse Hyde

Linda Larsen

When Linda Larsen's son Christian was deployed in Kuwait with the Utah National Guard a few years ago, like many mothers with soldier sons she sent him care packages. After learning of a few soldiers in her son's unit who received next to nothing from home, she added them to her list. Pretty soon she was sending holiday gift bundles to her son's entire 190-member unit. The Ogden woman never imagined the snowball effect her care packages would have.

In 2010, more than 1,000 Utah soldiers received care packages from Linda and her organization, Operation Adopt a Ghost, named after her son's unit, the Ghost Rider Task Force.

"I always thought what I was doing would be so small and temporary, but it's grown exponentially," Larsen said. "This work has been the most faith-building experience of my life."

Operation Adopt a Ghost sends packages to soldiers throughout the year, in the hopes that the soldiers receive some holiday cheer, and feel the support from people back home.

In January, hand warmers and hot cocoa are sent along with heart-shaped cards, to reach soldiers by Valentine's Day. In the springtime, soldiers receive chocolate Easter eggs. At Halloween, candy. For Christmas this year, 668 soldiers received goodie bags with a variety of treats and presents. To newly deployed soldiers, they send toiletry bundles.

Struggling families of soldiers also benefit from the efforts of Larsen and her helpers. This year, Operation Adopt a Ghost did a "soldier Santa" for five families with recently deployed or newly returned soldiers, struggling to make ends meet for Christmas.

And that's not all. Larsen explained that in addition to holiday packages, they try to respond to urgent needs year-round. This work has become a full-time commitment.

Larsen is quick to acknowledge that she couldn't do all of this by herself, and she doesn't: more than 200 people volunteer regularly with Operation Adopt a Ghost.

"Somebody always shows up," Larsen says. "There are whisperings about what we do, and someone will always show up so we have more than enough to cover people's needs."

On the organization's Facebook page, dozens of individuals express their thanks to Linda. "You are my hero," one woman wrote. From a soldier on Larsen's Christmas-list: "I cannot express what you and your family do means to me. You have made sure to give us the best Christmas we could ask for." One woman identifies herself as the mother of three soldiers and writes: "I really appreciate what you are doing. Let me know how I can help!"

— Kelly McConkie Henriod

Spencer P. Eccles

Spencer P. Eccles doesn't want credit for Utah's recent ascent as one of America's most business-friendly cities. Newsweek proclaimed Utah "the New Economic Zion" and Forbes went one better, naming Utah the top state in the country for business and careers.

In the past year alone, Ebay, Procter and Gamble, Black Diamond and Adobe have all opened or expanded offices in Utah. Eccles and his team at the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) were instrumental in convincing each of these firms to expand in Utah or relocate here. During the past fiscal year, Eccles and his GOED staff provided opportunities for the creation of more than 4,000 new jobs in Utah.

"Our success is due to the leadership of the Legislature, the governor and our team," said Eccles, the executive director of GOED. "And at the end of the day, our success is really the success of Utah businesses."

Eccles' job at GOED is to stimulate new growth in Utah by encouraging businesses already here to expand, and businesses outside of the state to come here. They are also a support organization for existing Utah businesses, especially small businesses, which Eccles views as the backbone of the Utah economy. According to Eccles, 80 percent of the companies in Utah are small businesses, creating thousands of jobs for Utahns.

Eccles attributes the state's recent success in attracting national companies to Utah's economic "secret sauce": "Our secret sauce is that we work well together here in Utah. The state, county, city and municipal governments all work well together as well as with the academic community and the private sector," Eccles said. "We get told all the time by out-of-state companies that here in Utah, we do things right."

As for the future? Eccles readily admits that there is room for improvement as far as jobs go, but asserts that GOED is striving to be more focused, more effective, and more efficient.

"Our pipeline is full," Eccles assured. "We've got a lot of companies right now looking at Utah to expand or relocate."

— Kelly McConkie Henriod

Chris Hill and Tom Holmoe

University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill and Brigham Young University athletic director Tom Holmoe forever altered the landscape of college athletics in Utah in 2010. But their influence will extend beyond sports. Thanks to the moves Hill and Holmoe made this year — Hill was key in Utah's jump to the Pac-12, and Holmoe was one of the principal architects behind BYU's move to independence — both institutions increased their visibility nationally.

For the Utes the Pac-12 means more money: they'll receive significant increases in TV and BCS revenues. It also means better athletes; kids who would never have considered Utah before will now give the school a good look. There will also be more opportunities to play on national television because the Pac-12 is one of six major conferences in college football. As far as academics go, the school could gain more recognition for its advances in a variety of different areas of study by being part of a conference known for its academic excellence.

Making it into the Pac-10 has been a dream of Hill's for a long time, one that he never let die, no matter how unlikely it seemed. At the Pac-12 announcement in June, Hill said, "We all need to be dreamers with no limits and no rearview mirror. This is one of our dreams, to be here. We'll work hard every day to make the Pac-10 proud we're a member."

For the Cougars, the decision for the football program to go independent, "came down to two pillars," Tom Holmoe said earlier this year, "access and exposure." Aiding in this quest for greater exposure is an eight-year contract with ESPN. According to the deal, every home football game and men's basketball game will be televised nationwide. While breaking with the MWC was a risky move because of the scheduling difficulties independence presents, the partnership with ESPN will make scheduling much easier, because everyone wants the chance to play on the national stage. Already, BYU has scheduled games with Texas, Ole Miss, West Virginia and Notre Dame.

"This is our first year of independence," Holmoe says. "As we look down the road, we have an opportunity to bring in some nice teams and be able to play on the road against some traditionally great college football teams. It's going to be fun."

— Kelly McConkie Henriod

Luz Robles

If one issue divided Utahns more than any other in 2010, it was immigration. The state found itself in the national spotlight when two employees in the Utah Department of Workforce Services sent a list of 1,300 people they believed were living in the United States illegally to law enforcement and the media, demanding their deportation. This followed a proposal from Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, to pass an Arizona-style immigration enforcement bill, which some worried could result in racial profiling. On the flip side, the state got plaudits from the New York Times for the "good sense" behind a statement from Utah leaders called the "Utah Compact," which urged moderation and civility in dealing with "the complex challenges associated with a broken national immigration system." The Times called the compact a model for other states.

Perhaps no one is more representative of the changing face of Utah than Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, the first immigrant state senator in Utah. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Robles is one of the youngest members of the Senate and one of only four Latinos in either chamber. For many Hispanics, she became their voice when she proposed an immigration reform bill of her own earlier this year. While the bill was criticized by some Latino leaders, Robles said it would provide a way for illegal immigrants to obtain work permits and undergo criminal background checks. "The reality is the vast majority of immigrants want to be part of something. Right now, there is no mechanism for them to be part of anything." The proposed bill showed that Robles is more than just a face; she's a rising power in Utah politics and a leader for the state's fastest growing population.

—Jesse Hyde

Becky Lockhart

After 12 years of work at the state Legislature, Rep. Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, is about to make Utah history.

In a close race this November, Lockhart's colleagues at the capitol chose her to replace Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, as the GOP's new Speaker of the House with a 30-28 vote. Lockhart will now be the first woman in Utah to hold that position of power.

The long-time Provo representative is excited to assume her new role and be an example to women in the state, but she is quick to point out that she wasn't chosen because of her gender.

"I'm going to try my best to be a positive role model for women and be an example of the kinds of things women can achieve, but having said that, I didn't run for office expecting that anyone would vote for me because I'm a woman," Lockhart said. "I'm a representative just like any other person is a representative."

Lockhart, a wife, mother and former nurse, was first elected to represent Provo in the state Legislature in 1998 at 30 years old with 86 percent of the vote. Her husband, Stan Lockhart, a lobbyist for Micron, was chairman of the state GOP from 2007-2009.

Lockhart said her focus in the new session is to build consensus on controversial issues facing lawmakers this year, including immigration and health care. But that doesn't mean that everything will be business as usual this upcoming session.

"Whenever you have a change at the speakership, you're going to have a different way of doing things," Lockhart said in November. "It shouldn't be surprising."

—Amy Choate-Nielsen

Elizabeth Smart

When Elizabeth Smart faced her kidnapper in court this November, she publicly shared details of her abduction that she had never before revealed — not even to her parents.

But as a national audience watched the 23-year-old handle Brian David Mitchell's trial with exquisite poise and grace, she became known for something more than her testimony of the almost daily rapes she endured for nine months from 2002 to 2003. As she walked in and out of the courtroom each day, unashamed, head held high, Smart became an example of courage and resiliency. For many, she became a hero.

"I am so thrilled to stand before the people of America today and give hope to other victims who have not spoken out about what has happened to them," she said in December after Mitchell was found guilty of kidnapping and raping her. It was gray outside and drizzling slightly as cameras crowded around Smart and her family to hear her response to the verdict, but even then, she was calm and clear in her message.

Her dignity in the face of recounting her ordeal and her willingness to confront her attacker in a public arena were marks of bravery inspiring to many. She brought attention to the reality of rape, and through her example, she has shown that it is possible to heal after a devastating experience and be happy and whole again.

"I hope that not only was this an example that justice can be served in America, but that it is possible to move on after something terrible has happened," Smart said. "We can speak out and we will be heard."

—Amy Choate-Nielsen