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South Salt Lake elementary school named for former Utah Gov. Olene Walker

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Granite School District’s new Olene Walker Elementary School is under construction at 3745 S. 900 West. The school board voted Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, to name the school after Utah’s 15th governor.

Granite School District

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Granite School District’s new elementary school in South Salt Lake will be named for former Utah Gov. Olene Walker.

It is the first neighborhood school named for a woman in the district’s history, which dates back to the early 1900s. The Granite School Board voted 6-1 Tuesday to name the school in honor of Walker.

The school, at 3745 S. 900 West, will open in the fall of 2020 and will replace Roosevelt Elementary.

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Gov. Olene Walker is pictured in the Governor’s Mansion in 2004.

Deseret News archives.

Granite officials, with input from students, parents and community members, will select the school’s mascot, colors and logo.

Walker, who died in 2015 at age 85, was Utah’s first female lieutenant governor serving with Gov. Mike Leavitt. When Leavitt stepped down to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003, Walker became the states’ first female governor, serving from Nov. 5, 2003, to Jan. 3, 2005.

Her own bid for governor in 2004 ended in the Utah Republican Party’s state convention when she was defeated by her eventual successor, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and former House Speaker Nolan Karras. Karras was defeated by Huntsman in the Republican primary election.

Other school names considered by the board included Riverfront; Carlisle, acknowledging a family that historically farmed in the area; industrialist and philanthropist Jon M. Huntsman Sr.; former Utah House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart; and Martha Hughes Cannon, a suffragist and Utah’s first female state senator.

Walker was born in 1930 in Ogden to Thomas Ole Smith and Nina Smith. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, a master’s degree from Stanford University and a doctorate from the University of Utah.

From 1969 to 1992, Walker served as vice president of Country Crisp Foods, a family business.

Walker served in the Utah House of Representatives for eight years, serving a term as majority whip. As lieutenant governor, Walker led many initiatives in education programs and workforce development.

She oversaw the Healthcare Reform Task Force that established the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which extends affordable health care for children. Walker also convened the Utah Homeless Coordinating Committee.

Prior to entering politics, Walker founded the Salt Lake Education Foundation and served as its director. She also served as director of the Utah Division of Community Development.

Walker and her husband, Myron, were the parents of seven children.

While Granite District has no neighborhood schools named for women, the Hilda B Jones Center, named for a special educator, offers vocational training to special education and at-risk students.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly said the board voted unanimously to name the school after Walker. The vote was 6-1, with board member Todd Zenger voting against the motion because he said he preferred the Riverfront option backed by community surveys.