This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

RICHFIELD - Yes, its central location - about halfway between the hustle and bustle of the Wasatch Front and the sun and fun of Utah's Dixie - makes Sevier County the heart of south-central Utah.

But it's the people who pump life into that heart.

People like the guy who hands out keys to his diner so early risers can toss coffee down before the sun comes up. Or the kindly couple who sing at so many funerals they have their own entrance at the mortuary. Or the activist orthodontist who brightens smiles and lives.

These are some of the people who leave large imprints on their small towns:

Breakfast club: Perhaps every Denny's manager has this dream: Customers open the restaurant, brew their own coffee, cook their own meals and pay their own tabs so the employees can sleep in.

So goes life at Frost's Cowboy Corral, tucked just off Elsinore's dusty main drag eight miles south of Richfield.

On this July morning, retired farmer Ramon Christensen, retired miner Morrill Nielson and miner-turned-farmer Doug Meacham are sipping their coffee at 4:30 a.m., two hours before the owner arrives. Like the other eight or nine people with keys, the three leave their tabs on the table beneath a sign that reads: "Sit long, talk much, laugh often."

They do.

They lounge until about 6 a.m., save for Christensen, 64, who ducks out a tad earlier to go home and catch a "Gunsmoke" rerun.

They talk - about politics, kids and farms - as more townsfolk trickle in.

"There's no difference between a Democrat and a damned Republican," Nielson laments.

"Nowadays, with this [modern] equipment," muses the 64-year-old Meacham, "you think you can farm this whole thing. Then the first of May comes along and you put on those black rubber boots [to irrigate] and you say to yourself: 'What the hell was I thinking?' "

And they laugh.

The 80-year-old Nielson, who had six children (one died in childhood), quips: "Uranium was supposed to make you sterile. . . . I had all of 'em after I started mining."

Just after 5:30 a.m., Ray Reiter comes in and fires up the grill so it will be ready when owner Jim Frost arrives after 6 a.m. "I ain't gonna come in here that early," Frost says.

He and his wife, Arlene, swapped their Emery County ranch for the restaurant 12 years ago.

The 100 or so diners a day can order pancakes, bacon, sausage and eggs for breakfast; burgers, BLTs, chicken and turkey for lunch and dinner. And, on this day, homemade apple and peach pies along with chocolate cake for dessert.

Toward the back, a CD player sits beneath a poster of "Eight Seconds" cowboy legend Lane Frost (Jim's nephew) and twangs out tunes from "Cowboy Classics - Honky-Tonk Heroes."

On a table lies an envelope that says "Happy Birthday, Barb." It's for Barbara Cosby over in Aurora. Arlene gives it to Barb's husband, Jim, at lunchtime.

That's not all she'll give. Later, Arlene will deliver restaurant leftovers to a recent widow, a neighbor on oxygen, a woman in Richfield and to others who may be hurting or housebound.

The Frosts "do so much for the community," says Trudy Anderson, who moved to Elsinore from Melbourne, Australia, about 18 months ago and helps at the diner. "They drop off four or five meals a day."

For the Frosts, such charity is second nature.

"It makes you feel better to give something away than throw it away," Arlene says.

The giveaways won't stop but the Frosts wonder when their getaways will begin. They're trying to sell the Cowboy Corral so they can retire.

"We've had a travel trailer for 10 years," Arlene says. "We've used it twice."

Funeral fixtures: It's December 1951. Richfield residents Phil and Nina Jorgensen, who have three small children, get word of a friend's death.

The grieving family asks Phil and Nina to sing at the funeral. They do, offering a moving rendition of "Beyond the Sunset."

Today - 53 years, five more kids and 3,000-plus funeral duets later - the Jorgensens still comfort mourners with their heartfelt harmonies.

"Just to be asked [to sing] has been a reward," says Nina, tears streaking down her cheeks.

In fact, the couple have been asked so many times that Neal S. Magleby & Sons Mortuary in Richfield has a door labeled "Phil & Nina's Room."

The "room" actually is an entrance to the chapel's music alcove, complete with an organ, piano and, on days the couple sing, a cup of warm water and a lemon wedge.

That entrance came in handy when the Jorgensens were younger and performing at as many as 80 funerals a year and, frequently, two a day, allowing them to slip in and out quickly.

"This would help them get there, shall we say, in the nick of time," says funeral director Gary Lewis.

One time the often-hurried and sometimes-harried couple sang at three funerals in one day - first in Koosharem, then 30 miles to the northwest in Richfield and, finally, 35 miles north in Gunnison.

"That was a full day," Phil recalls.

But they always made it. "And Nina always baked pies to give to the grieving family," Lewis says. "Round hugs," the Jorgensens' daughter Teresa Nielson calls them.

So why has this couple, who are approaching their 80s, become such a funeral fixture? Maybe it's his tenor or her alto liltings. Perhaps it's the blissful blend of both. No, the real reason may be the way they sing.

"They lean into each other and hold hands the whole time," Lewis explains.

The two still sing and still lean. He still works at his business, Richfield Coal & Oil Co., and she still bakes a mean banana cream. And they still hold hands - though his bum knee and her bad hip sometimes force them to make room for a cane.

"We used to sing left-handed," Phil says. "But now we sing right-handed."

One voice: While the Jorgensens sing in two-part harmony, dozens of high school students sing with One Voice.

The choir - led by Janet Bird, Laurie Huntsman and Richard Barnett - practices weekly and performs about a dozen concerts every school year.

Barnett, one of Richfield's two orthodontists, is "most proud" that the choir unites students from Sevier County's three fiercely competitive high schools: Richfield, North Sevier and South Sevier.

The rivalries usually peak before a big game. Exhibit A: South Sevier's hillside moniker above Monroe.

"Somehow an 'A' would appear" in front of the "SS," explains Dirk Jensen, Richfield High Class of 1988.

Not that Barnett isn't true to his town's team. He helped revive and refocus Richfield High's booster club, expanding it beyond football and basketball to students on the stage and in the classroom.

Barnett's boosters have built restrooms, remodeled the auditorium and bought $15,000 worth of computers, with most of the money coming from peddling goodies at games.

"Whenever I see him lugging loads and loads of drinks for concessions, I just think of his energy," says Richfield High Assistant Principal Richard Barton. "His commitment is second to none."

Barnett moved his family and his practice from West Jordan to Richfield nine years ago, largely for the small-town life.

"I sacrificed a good deal of income for the lifestyle," he says. "But the opportunities that came to the kids, I'm not sure they would have had them at a school in West Jordan."

His eldest son, for starters, won all-state honors in cross country and track at Richfield High, his second son captured all-state bows in drama, and Barnett earned more chances to help others.

Besides his work with the choir and the booster club, Barnett is a leading force in the Chamber of Commerce and heads up a grass-roots campaign to aid families of the 125-plus Sevier County residents deployed in Iraq, many of them with the Utah National Guard's 222nd Field Artillery Unit.

"I've never served in the armed forces," Barnett says. "So I decided we need to do something. We need to give back."

The campaign, which urges residents to set aside their spare change for the families, has raised $7,500 so far. Its success is yet another reason Barnett and his wife, Tammy, call Sevier County home.

"This is where we've lived the best of years of our lives," he says. "So this is where we're going to be [buried]."

The band plays on

Visitor Kristjana High flits around the care center's activity room, waltzing with and hugging residents to the strains of "Red River Valley" like a cross between Ginger Rogers and Florence Nightingale.

"I gotta dance," High says.

That's because it's Tuesday morning at the Richfield Rehabilitation and Care Center. And for two hours every Tuesday - between "The Price Is Right" and lunch - Les Draper and his band play dozens of golden oldies to brighten the golden years for dozens of residents.

"Some of them don't respond much," says Tracy Mickelsen, who oversees activities at the center. "Then you see them tapping their toes."

Resident Barbara Slade does more than that. When the band - dubbed the Care Center Crew - cranks up a spirited version of "Jimmy Crack Corn," she smiles, sings and claps along.

"I love their music," she beams.

The little library that could

Elsinore's town library is the brainchild of a child.

Back in 1980, 10-year-old Jason Hardman, tired of pedaling six miles to neighboring Monroe to check out a book, set up a one-room library in the basement of historic Town Hall. Soon, the national media spread word of the pint-size bookworm and donations streamed in.

Jason grew up and he and his family moved. (He now lives in Salt Lake County.) Then a pipe burst and damaged many of the books. The library looked doomed.

But its shelf life continued. Valerie Hopper saved many of the volumes and collected insurance for the others, says Town Clerk Jeane Wood.

Today, the Little Library That Could - staffed by volunteers - fills three rooms, offers three computers and holds more than 10,000 books, thanks largely to an anonymous $10,000 donation.

"We're very appreciative to the [volunteers] and to Jason for starting this," says Hopper, in her 12th year as Elsinore's mayor. "This kid had a dream and accomplished it. He left a little legacy here."

A fair to remember

She made the fair a truly county affair.

Longtime Richfield resident Trish Bumgardner joined the fair board in the early 1980s and quickly discovered that Sevier County's three major cities - Richfield, Salina and Monroe - were not "working together."

So, among other innovations, she launched a musical as part of the annual event and made sure the cast included members from throughout the county. She didn't want just a Richfield show.

"I really wanted everyone to feel a part of it," she says.

Bumgardner was integral to the fair for years, planning the pageant, overseeing the talent show, even fixing the stage. "I would be down there 'til my hands were bleeding," she recalls.

And if commissioners ever threaten to dump the fair, she vows to jump to its rescue. After all, she says, "the heart of a county is the county fair."

comments powered by Disqus