Jake Garn International Airport. It’s the perfect name for Salt Lake City’s newly modernized air transportation hub. First, Jake is a local product. He was born in Richfield, but he grew up in Salt Lake City, where he attended the city’s public schools. He graduated from East High School and the University of Utah.
Second, Jake has a lifelong connection to aviation. He developed a love of airplanes and flight through his father, who was a true aviation pioneer. The senior Garn received the first pilot’s license issued by the State of Utah, and he later became Utah’s first commissioner of aviation. Young Jake learned to fly as a teenager.
During the Korean War, Jake joined the U.S. Navy and flew fighter missions over North Korea from aircraft carriers. When his enlistment ran out, he returned to Utah and joined the Utah Air National Guard. He flew giant tankers to refuel other planes in flight. Eventually, he became a brigadier general in the Utah Air National Guard. He accumulated more than 10,000 flight hours.
After he “retired,” Jake bought a surplus military training aircraft, rebuilt it and thrilled in flying it around the state. Even today in his mid-80s, one of Jake’s greatest joys is having his son, a commercial pilot, fly Jake in his rebuilt trainer around the valley.
Third, Jake has a long and distinguished record of public service. He was elected to the Salt Lake City Commission in 1968. After distinguished service as a commissioner, he was elected mayor of Salt Lake City. Then, when Utah Sen. Wallace Bennett decided not to run again, Jake entered the race and won. He was reelected with the highest plurality achieved by any U.S. Senate candidate in Utah history. But after three terms, he voluntarily resigned, just as he had promised to do. And he returned to Salt Lake City.
Fourth, Jake became the first and only sitting senator to orbit earth. In 1985, he volunteered to fly into space aboard the space shuttle. His role was to be the subject for medical research about space sickness. Preparation for the shuttle flight was extensive and rigorous. Few men his age would have been able to complete it, and fewer yet would have braved the severe space sickness he experienced during the flight. He orbited the earth 108 times, traveled 2.5 million miles, and spent 167 hours in space.
Fifth, Jake’s first loyalty is to his family His daughter fell victim to an incurable kidney disease. Without hesitation, Jake offered one of his own kidneys to replace his daughter’s failing organs. He said any father would do the same thing. But it ended his dream of going into space a second time, perhaps as the first senior citizen to do so.
Sixth, Jake devoted himself to inspiring Utah children. He shared his space travel story with thousands of Utah school children, challenging them to dream big, telling them to believe firmly in this great nation, and encouraging them to serve the city, state, nation and world.
Seventh, Jake is one of the “good guys.” He and I are from opposite sides of the political spectrum, but during the many years I have known him, he never refused to talk with me, to listen, to offer thoughtful responses and to provide support where appropriate.
The world would be a better place if we had more Jake Garns.
Scott Howell is a longtime community and political leader and the former minority leader of the Utah State Senate.