ERDA, Tooele County — For more than three decades, Larry Sagers worked to make Utah a more beautiful place — its gardens more plentiful, its grasses more green, its trees more full.
On the radio, in classrooms, through newspaper columns and annual tours, Sagers taught and shared his expansive knowledge of horticulture. And for the past year and a half, Sagers did all of that while battling mesothelioma.
Sagers, 63, lost that fight Tuesday when he died around 5:30 a.m. at his Erda home.
"He was a fixture. He was an icon," said Tim Hughes, who co-hosted "The KSL Greenhouse Show" with Sagers on KSL NewsRadio. "We've had this discussion about who replaces Larry Sagers … and I don't know that there is anybody that can do that."
As he had for more than 30 years, Sagers answered questions every Saturday morning on the radio. The last gardening column he wrote for the Deseret News was published Monday, as it was every week since 1989.
"He was definitely committed to the whole thing. If he said he was going to be there, he would be there," Gretchen Campbell, who worked under Sagers at the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point, said Tuesday. "They wanted to put him in the hospital yesterday and he said, 'No I can't go to the hospital. I have to teach. I've got to teach.' That is what he lived for — to teach and help other people."
Sagers' LDS bishop in the Rose Springs Ward in Erda, Jeff Barton, said the word "teacher" is the one that most epitomizes Sagers. He said Sagers taught Gospel Doctrine Sunday School classes up until the time of his death.
"(Sagers) might be a little bit quiet in meeting with him, but you put him in a classroom and it was just amazing," Bishop Barton said. "Put him in a classroom and it's obvious he's a teacher. It doesn't matter if it was gardening or teaching the gospel."
Sagers and his wife, Diane, were also known for the garden tours they offered that took them to gardens throughout the United States and the world. Wherever Sagers went, Hughes said he still made arrangements to be available for the weekly radio show.
"When he was anywhere in the world he wanted to find a way to connect and make sure that he was a part of that radio show, no matter if it was 2 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon or in a middle of a tour with people who had paid to see those parts of the world with him," Hughes said. "He wanted to make sure that his listeners, and me in particular, were taken care of."
Hughes said Sagers had an incredible knowledge that went beyond his area of expertise. The show's listeners could sometimes hear Sagers connect horticulture to world history, science and medicine.
"He's a guy that had every reason in the world to be boastful about his knowledge," Hughes said. "He was one of the smartest people I've ever known and yet had no desire whatsoever to beat his chest about the knowledge he carried.
"Larry was Larry whether you talked to him on the street, whether you saw him in church on Sunday or listened to him on the radio on Saturday. Larry was just Larry. … He was the most humble man I think I've ever bumped into that carried that kind of brain power with him every day."
Sagers was crucial in bringing an advanced master gardener class to Thanksgiving Point where he taught "thousands" and he worked to help see the gardens there thrive, Campbell said. He wrote a master gardener book specifically for Utah without pulling information about other neighboring states, as had been done before. He also wrote a Temple Square gardening book.
"We're losing a very knowledgeable person who was very kind and respectful to other people," Campbell said. "He was one of the most patient people I know. He can be asked the same gardening question 100 times and he still answered it like it was the very first time he's heard that question."
Bishop Barton said Sagers was the kind of person who always put others first. Whenever he would ask Sagers how he was doing and how the cancer treatments were going, Sagers wanted to talk about the families he was assigned to visit and teach.
"He was a pretty amazing person," the bishop said. "It says something about somebody who, when they have a condition like this — some people give up or totally change what they're doing — Larry didn't have to do that. He was doing what he would do whether it was his last day or whether he had 20 years left — teaching, educating people and spending time with family."
Everyone who is interviewed about Sagers has to pause at times for the emotions that overcome them. It was noted more than once that Sagers fought his hardest to beat cancer and that his death does not mean an end to all that he has done.
"Great musicians leave us with their music and great artists leave us with their artwork," Hughes said. "As long as the trees on Temple Square are growing and blooming and the flowers are growing and blooming and the pests are under control, then Larry Sagers' legacy lives on in Utah."
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