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Prominent Utah philanthropist Beverley Taylor Sorenson dead at 89

Published: Tuesday, May 28 2013 9:48 p.m. MDT

Judges Beverley Taylor Sorenson, left, and Monica Ferguson evaluate drawings in the statewide Sun Safe Poster Contest Friday, April 6, 2012, in Salt Lake City. The longtime philanthropist, advocate for arts education and member of one of the wealthiest families in Utah died at age 89 of natural causes Monday, May 27, 2013.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Beverley Taylor Sorenson, a prominent Utah philanthropist and champion of arts education, didn't just encourage others to teach and nurture children, she was the first to offer help.

Sorenson died at her home of natural causes Monday, surrounded by loved ones, family members said. She was 89.

"The predominant memories I have of her are as a nurturer, as a mother, as one that took care of the little daily needs that children have," said Jim Sorenson, one of Beverley Sorenson's eight children.

Even among 49 grandchildren and 65 great-grandchildren, Beverley Sorenson never missed a birthday, Jim Sorenson said.

"She loved children, she loved art and she loved education," he said. "She really found the best way to combine all of those, to combine and lift others. If she had a great passion in life and in her philanthropy, it was really in those areas."

Condolences offered Tuesday by the Department of Heritage and Arts, Governor Gary Herbert and schools across the state honored Beverley Sorenson for her genuine love and ongoing support.

"Utah mourns the loss of one of our finest matriarchs with the passing of the ever-gracious Beverley Taylor Sorenson," Herbert said. "Always the dedicated teacher, her extraordinary life has made a difference for thousands of Utah schoolchildren through her tireless support of arts education."

Beverley Sorenson, along with her husband James LeVoy Sorenson, created the Sorenson Legacy Foundation to support cultural, educational, scientific and community-focused projects.

The Sorensons donated tens of millions of dollars across the country, including a $3 million donation to Southern Utah University to fund the Emma Eccles Jones Teacher Education Building, an endowed chair position for elementary arts education, and scholarships and arts education programs.

In 2006, the SUU College of Education was named the Beverley Taylor Sorenson College of Education in honor of her generous support.

During its Founders Day celebration in March, SUU also gave Beverley Sorenson's name to the building that will house the Southern Utah Museum of Art and the Utah Shakespeare Festival, uniting the two projects under one roof. The Sorenson Legacy Foundation gave a $6 million gift to make the center a reality.

"We are privileged to name our Center for the Arts in honor of Beverley and her vision of the power of art in improving quality of life, particularly when it touches the lives of children," Dean of Performing and Visual Arts Shauna Mendini said at the time.

For the past 13 years, Beverley Sorenson has promoted arts education in Utah’s elementary schools. She is credited for persuading Utah lawmakers in 2008 to fund a $16 million, four-year initiative to hire 50 arts specialists to work in elementary schools. At a conference of the nation's governors that same year, she was one of eight people recognized nationally for their public service.

Beverley Sorenson's persistent dedication to integrating art education in elementary learning will endure, Jim Sorenson said. His mother established endowed chairs and programs at Utah colleges and universities, and brought together legislators and members of the state office of education in hopes of reaching every young student in the state.

Within five years, that is expected to be a reality.

"She deeply believed that in order for children to have a full development, to be able to really expand their creative abilities as well as enable them an outlet to be able to express themselves, they really needed to have art integrated," Jim Sorenson said.

He said anyone looking at Beverley Sorenson's life and emulating her example of love, service and selflessness will have "a tremendous impact in the lives of others, just as she has had."

Beverley Sorenson was born April 13, 1924, in Salt Lake City. She earned a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Utah in 1945 and later taught kindergarten in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she met her future husband.

James LeVoy Sorenson also became a prominent philanthropist and entrepreneur and a globally prominent inventor in the medical world. He died of cancer in 2008.

Funeral services for Beverley Sorenson will be held Friday. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Art Works for Kids Foundation (www.artworksforkids.org/foundation), Utah Youth Village (www.youthvillage.org) or the Perpetual Education Fund of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (www.lds.org/pef).

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