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Beverley Taylor Sorenson, a Utah philanthropist who made her passion for the arts and education known throughout the state, died Monday of natural causes at the age of 89.
Sorenson and her late husband, James LeVoy Sorenson an entrepreneur and medical device inventor who passed away in 2008 devoted millions of dollars each year to education, science, health care, the arts and community building through their Sorenson Legacy Foundation.
Funeral services will be held Friday, with additional details to be released soon.
The couple's foundation gave millions in funding to Utah universities and colleges to train art teachers. In 1995, she established the Art Works For Kids foundation, which grants money to schools across the state to integrate arts into the wider school curriculum.
Her dedication remained steadfast after her husband's death. In 2008 the Utah Legislature followed her lead, directing $15 million toward her Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program to combine arts with core subjects at select elementary schools, soon to reach 130 Utah elementary schools next year.
Sorenson said her love of arts stretched back to her own childhood, and into her marriage. Her late husband often sought silence in another room if someone in the household was playing or practicing the piano, she once said, but he never failed to leave a tip on the instrument's mantle in appreciation.
"In 7th grade I learned the foxtrot and the waltz," she said early last year while announcing one of her many gifts toward arts education. "I was the one who played piano, and I never did get to dance. But being a shy girl, it made me a little more confident. It really meant a lot."
Her schedule remained brisk as she aged. She announced a $3 million gift for an endowed chair in arts education at Westminster College last year. This year she made a "capstone gift" of $6 million toward Southern Utah University's new center for the arts and arts education in Cedar City, which will house a new Shakespeare theater and production building for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, in addition to a new location for the Southern Utah Museum of Art.
The new $30 million arts center, named the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, is expected to make the Utah town a regional arts hub.
Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement Tuesday on Sorenson's passing, calling her "one of our finest matriarchs."
"Always the dedicated teacher, her extraordinary life has made a difference for thousands of Utah schoolchildren through her tireless support of arts education," Herbert said, "not only through her generous financial contributions by the Art Works for Kids Foundation, but especially through her vision and drive to demonstrate meaningful educational outcomes and the lasting value of incorporating art and culture across educational curricula."
Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who sponsored the original legislation creating the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, said Sorenson was a graceful, yet tenacious, advocate for her cause.
"She took a conservative who didn't really care a whole lot about arts, and with her passion and her determination she showed me how students are able to learn math and science and history through the arts, and [she] showed me so profoundly, going to the schools, seeing how it was working, that I become a quick champion for the effort," Hughes said. "It showed a level of vision and personal determination that I think is changing students' lives in a positive way. I think she's started something we're going to see grow. She's created a legacy with her efforts."
Once, upon hearing that a state superintendent couldn't meet to hammer out the program's implementation because he was out of town, Sorenson flew her staff to St. George that same day to meet with him. "Boy, was she driven," Hughes said.
Jim Sorenson, one of her eight children, said that while his mother will perhaps best be remembered for arts philanthropy, she was also dedicated to her family, neighbors and anyone in need.
"With all of the recognition and the work that she's done in education, sometimes that part of her life gets overlooked," he said. "She is one that never forgot a birthday, never forgot the Christmas season, Mother's Day, Father's Day and when you think about it, getting little gifts or remembrances to eight children, their spouses, her grandchildren and then 65 great-grandchildren, that would be quite an organizational feat in and of itself. It speaks to what was important to her, her character, her love of family, her love for others."
Grace Larsen, principal of Knowlton Elementary, said Sorenson's advocacy will be felt across generations of Utah students, as long as her program survives.
"I just can't tell you what a difference her life has made in the lives of each of my over 750 students, every one of my teachers and also me," Larsen said. "I just can't begin to praise her enough for all that she has done. ... it has made such a difference in children's academic success."
University of Utah President David Pershing also recognized her passing. "Beverley's lifelong commitment to teaching and learning is an inspiration to educators here at the U and across the state of Utah," he said in a statement issued Tuesday. "She recognized that arts enrich the lives of Utah children and we are proud to continue her legacy through the programs and facilities she advocated."
Sorenson is survived by eight children, 49 grandchildren and 65 great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Art Works for Kids Foundation, Utah Youth Village or the Perpetual Education Fund of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Tribune reporter Ben Fulton contributed to this story.
Remembering Beverley Taylor Sorenson