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A smiling, but frail, Thomas S. Monson joined more than 400 dignitaries Wednesday as the University of Utah named its newest building a recently renovated 135-year-old edifice after the 89-year-old Mormon leader.
For nearly half a century, the historic Wall Mansion, at 411 E. South Temple in Salt Lake City, was home to LDS Business College. The overhauled building now becomes the Thomas S. Monson Center, the U.'s "embassy to the community" and home to the school's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
That's fitting, President Henry B. Eyring, Monson's first counselor in the LDS Church's governing First Presidency, said in a short speech. "Just as President Monson has reached out to people from every background and walk of life, this center will draw individuals and organizations from the local and global community to engage their minds and hearts in creating ideas and programs that change lives, communities and nations for the better."
It was "a thrill" and a "real pleasure" to see Monson's face when he learned the building would be named for him, Eyring said after the event. "His heart is in it."
Wednesday's hourlong ceremony was attended by a long line of luminaries, including U. President David Pershing, Utah Jazz owner and philanthropist Gail Miller and Utah developer Kem C. Gardner, a self-described "Wyoming cowboy," who gave his money and name to the new policy institute.
A year ago, Natalie Gochnour, who will serve as director of the institute, laid out a vision for the work it plans to do, beginning with a project focused on three major issues: education, infrastructure investment and tax policy.
Beyond that, she said, the institute plans to conduct public-opinion research, delve into the role of the defense industry in the state, analyze Utah's housing and real estate market, and study its changing demographics and what they mean for areas such as education and employment.
On Wednesday, Gardner said he believes this new think tank would allow scholars and community leaders to sit down together for "research and advocacy."
Their joint efforts, the developer said, would "open doors for public policy choices ... for future generations."
Miller who, with Scott Anderson, president of Zions Bank, will serve as institute co-chair praised the building's namesake for his lifetime of service in Utah, the nation and abroad.
"What better example could we have [than President Monson]," she said, "of serving, preserving, enlarging and giving back?"
The Miller family, which contributed financially to the project, hopes the Monson Center will become "a beacon of hope to people in our community."
The Italianate Victorian residence was built in 1881 on what was then "Brigham Street" by James Sharp, Salt Lake City's sixth mayor. At Sharp's death in 1904, the mansion was purchased by Enos A. Wall, a mining entrepreneur and eventual owner of the Utah Copper Co. in Bingham Canyon.
Wall hired famed Utah architect Richard Kletting, who designed the state Capitol, to remodel his mansion into a neoclassical showpiece. Three years after Wall's death, it was bought by the Jewish community and became known as Covenant House. (Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, noted that her aunt and uncle met there.)
Finally, in 1962, it became LDS Business College, housing the school until 2006, when the campus moved to the Triad Center.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints then donated the mansion to the U., and private donors kicked in millions to restore the historic structure under the direction of Utah architect Allen D. Roberts.
Top leaders within the Utah-based faith were on hand for the ceremony, including all three members of the First Presidency, Russell M. Nelson, head of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and a number of other LDS apostles.
Monson, revered by 15.6 million Mormons around the globe as a "prophet, seer and revelator," did not speak at Wednesday's event. The church has previously said the longtime leader, who turned 89 on Sunday, is "feeling the effects of advancing age."
The Mormon president earned his undergraduate degree from the state's flagship university and taught there briefly in its business school.
As Monson exited the event to get into his car, he waved to the crowd and, in an ode to the U. fight song, said to all within earshot: "I am a Utah man, sir."