10 who made a difference in 2010

Published: Friday, Dec. 31 2010 10:00 p.m. MST

St.George native Jeremy Johnson walks with children as he tours a village near the Haitian and Dominican Republic border on Sunday, Jan., 24, 2010.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

For many, 2010 was a tough year.

Unemployment hovered at around 8 percent for much of the year and the state faced an initial budget gap of $100 million. After cuts to state agencies and education, that deficit had been whittled down to $28 million. Things weren't much better in the private sector, where layoffs affected industries throughout the state. ATK was one of the hardest hit; the company laid off more than 1500 workers in 2010.

Despite the challenges and disappointments that defined life for thousands of Utahns in 2010, the year was also marked by stories of triumph and perseverance. The 10 people below, as much as anyone, are representative of the strength and resilience the state has to offer.

They are leaders — the youngest elected member of the U.S. Senate; the first female speaker of the Utah House — they are innovative thinkers — the man behind downtown Salt Lake's resurgence; the brain trust behind the state's ascendancy as a business mecca — and they are everyday heroes like Elizabeth Smart. Each will have a significant influence in our state for years to come. Collectively, they are reason to hope for a brighter 2011 and a symbol of the greatness Utah has to offer.

Jeremy Johnson

Jeremy Johnson has an uncanny way of playing both hero and villain — depending on who's telling his story. To his friends — a group that includes members of the search and rescue team in Washington County, widows and orphans in Haiti and families to whom he's privately given thousands of dollars — he is an angel on earth.

To his foes — a group that fluctuates, based on his latest antics, but most recently includes the FTC and the mayor of Rockville — he is a reckless egomaniac whose lawlessness has done as much harm as good.

Both may be true. It was Johnson's tenacity that spurred him to round up several of his friends, leave his home in St. George, and launch a spontaneous search and rescue mission in Haiti in January powered by his own money, private jet and helicopters.

Three days after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the country Jan. 12, paralyzing large-scale relief efforts by the United Nations and other groups, grounding flights at the airport, Johnson's party was already camped just over the border in the Dominican Republic with full access to the devastation in Haiti. He and his buddies freely flew back and forth between the countries in Johnson's three helicopters, ferrying injured people to hospitals, delivering medicine and getting food to starving orphans. They worked around the clock.

They flew to Costco in Florida to buy supplies, but when that wasn't practical, Johnson went straight to the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where pallets of beans and powdered milk were piled with no way of distribution. He grabbed the food and used his helicopters to drop it off at remote villages and orphanages where the roads were impassable.

"There's so much suffering," Johnson said on his third trip back to the country in February after the initial quake. "You just want to stop the hurt so bad."

Since then, Johnson has been involved in rebuilding a women's shelter and youth center in the country — and getting other volunteers involved in the effort. He's been back to Haiti at least seven times.

Still, Johnson found himself in some hot water this summer. The town of Rockville rewrote an ordinance forbidding helicopters after Johnson landed his craft near some property he recently purchased. And Johnson got some bad news just before Christmas that the FTC is suing him for fraud and allegedly scamming millions of dollars from people through one of his companies, I Works.

Johnson referred questions about the lawsuit to his lawyer.

— Amy Choate-Nielsen

Bruce Bingham

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