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How Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson invests in his community

Published: Tuesday, July 17 2012 12:35 a.m. MDT

The issue was about an apartment complex on the west side of Salt Lake City where large numbers of refugee families lived. Virtually all of the refugees had been relocated to America through humanitarian agencies and were on limited incomes. The problem was that the owner of the complex had served notice that he intended to convert the apartments into condominiums so he could increase his rents and make more money.

Nothing wrong with that. It was a business decision. But it would leave the refugees in the lurch and that's why Anderson was calling the president of the bankers association. He felt the banking community needed to do something.

"The solution wasn't obvious," remembers Headlee. "Obviously, we didn't want to trample on the owner's rights. So what do we do? It was the start of many meetings that led to a number of solutions and approaches to the refugee situation."

One of those solutions was the founding of a charter school for refugees called the American Preparatory Academy, a humanitarian cause that Headlee has been involved with from its inception and one that he says "has changed my life."

"Trace it all back, and it started with Scott getting people together," says Headlee, "and with all that he does, it's something that's probably not even on his radar."

Fred Adams, the originator of the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival, notes that every time there's an important arts event or fundraiser, there's Scott.

"He'll find a way to be there and be supportive," says Fred. "I consider him the de Medici of Utah." (I looked it up. Adams is referring to fifteenth century Italian statesman Lorenzo de Medici, celebrated patron of scholars, artists and poets).

* * *

With his immersion and absorption in all things Utah, it would be natural to assume that building and preserving the state is all Anderson ever wanted to do and all he's ever done.

But the truth is, he took his sweet time getting to it. He left the friendly confines of home when he was a young man and for a long time it appeared he would never come back.

He is the second of seven children - six boys and a girl - born to respected federal judge Aldon J. Anderson, a Richard Nixon appointee, and his theater-major-turned-speech-therapist wife Virginia Weilenmann Anderson, a woman who worked extensively with the handicapped and never met a service project she didn't like. He grew up in the East Millcreek area and graduated from Skyline High School, class of 1965.

The family's roots stretch deep into Utah history. One ancestor is Major Howard Egan, who organized the Pony Express in the territory. Another is Ezra T. Benson, the Mormon apostle who was in the first group of pioneers to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Soon after arriving, Benson built a home on the corner of South Temple and Main Street, one of the earliest and finest residences in the new city, after which Church president Brigham Young sent Benson to settle Cache Valley and appropriated the house, which was eventually razed to make way for the Templeton Building, the home of Utah's first bank. "A sore point in our family lore," says Anderson, who smiles as he says it, because in a way the family got the old homestead back. His second-floor corner office in the Zions Bank Tower on South Temple occupies virtually the same spot Ezra T. built his house.

On Scott's mother's side, the Weilenmanns came to Utah from Switzerland and colonized the area around Bear Lake and Paris, Idaho. Among that family's progeny is Milt Weilenmann, Virginia's brother, who, besides serving as state chairman of the Democratic Party in Utah, opened one of Salt Lake's most popular restaurants in the 1950s and 1960s: Bratten's Seafood Grotto.

All the Anderson kids worked at Bratten's, including Scott, whose first job as a teenager was as a busboy. His sister Becky tells the story about Scott showing up for his shift early one Saturday morning, before anyone else got there, and rearranging the layout of the tables "so the flow would be better." And when Uncle Milt showed up and saw what his nephew had wrought? He kept it that way.

"We all worked there," says Becky, now an administrator at the Utah High School Activities Association, "but Scott took the initiative to make it work better."

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