Ex-UVSC chief is busy as ever

Sorensen worries that university status will cut out the technical

Published: Thursday, Jan. 18 2007 12:12 a.m. MST

SOUTH JORDAN — Former Utah Valley State College president Wilson W. Sorensen has always intended to watch the videos people gave him for his collection.

"I always said when I retire I'll have time to watch these," Sorensen said, looking over the shelves of movies in his apartment in South Jordan.

Well, the 90-year-old former college president retired in 1982, and a good number of the videos are still in the shrink wrap, including "Fiddler on the Roof," "Singin' in the Rain" and the "Little House on the Prairie" series.

They're right next to some of the awards he's received: a Century Club clock from the Utah National Parks Council, a "Citizen of the Year" plaque from the Kiwanis Club of Provo and a "Modern Day Pioneer" award from the Sons of Utah Pioneers. There's a good-size book about him on the adjacent shelf, "The Man Behind the Miracle," written when he received the first lifetime achievement award given in his name at UVSC.

"I'm still busy, busy," he said. "But I'll have more time soon."

Sorensen has been in the Legacy Apartment village for only a few months, so he's still getting oriented. He has doctors to see and visitors to entertain as well as a big family to keep up with. (He and his wife, Helen, had four children. Currently he has 18 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.)

That hasn't kept him from keeping up on the developments concerning UVSC.

He isn't a bit shy about letting visitors know he doesn't like the idea of turning the technical college into a university more focused on liberal arts than trades.

That's because Sorensen spent nearly 40 years of his life building UVSC from a tiny technical school into an institution that today has a student population of 23,300.

"We started in 1941 with a handful of students," Sorensen said. "The federal government funded a number of vocational schools to assist in the war effort."

J.D. Davidson, the dean of UVSC's Wasatch Campus in 2006, said the college wouldn't be here except for Sorensen.

Lucille Stoddard, vice-president for academic affairs at UVSC, said Sorensen showed extraordinary vision in steering the school through a number of name and location changes — from Central Utah Vocational School to Utah Trade Technical Institute to Utah Technical College to Utah Valley State College — culminating with the siting in its present location at the freeway entrance in Orem.

"It's a miracle, actually it's miracle after miracle," said Mike Falgoust, a retired UVSC faculty member.

Sorensen is modest but matter-of-fact about his life work unless he's asked about the university question.

"It will eventually eliminate the trade and technical programs," he said. "Liberal arts will take over. We'll completely lose our identity."

Sorensen, who loves to work with wood and with his hands, believes fiercely in the need for skilled machinists, mechanics and repairmen. He said he always envisioned the college evolving into something like Dunwoody College of Technology in Minnesota and Rochester Tech in Rochester, New York.

"People who graduate from these (technical colleges) can get good paying jobs, and there's a need for them," he said. "When we started out, World War II showed us we needed to have these programs in place. I guess it takes a war to wake up people,"

Sorensen still has an office on campus, and he occasionally dictates a letter in behalf of the college to various agencies. He's willing to testify to the state Legislature if needed on the university question, "but nobody's asked me," he said.

"Our baseball diamond is the best in the state," he said.

He attends college functions and is a fan of the Owlz baseball team, although it will be harder for him to get there now.

He sent in his driver's license after he had two accidents within the space of an hour on the same day.


E-mail: haddoc@desnews.com