ST. GEORGE — How does a man who had polio, Parkinson's disease, a hip and knee replacement, who once got in trouble with the Forest Service for glorifying "ranger" as part of his title (they had to sit him down), played pranks (Tom Sawyer-like) on former Utah governors (and got away with it), who mixed half-truths into his storytelling (but was humble enough to research and fix), be so revered not only in St. George but by then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton with a regional award (one of many) for the top volunteer historian in the Western region of the United States?
It was all because of what Marge Shakespeare calls the "Bart flair." Shakespeare, a vice president of a Zions Bank branch, first met Bart Anderson almost 30 years ago as a customer and now considers him a brother.
Anderson, known as "Ranger Bart," touched many lives during his 66 years. Described as a sort of Renaissance man by hiking buddy Robert Blair, Anderson hiked his best and last hike into eternity on Monday after several years of health problems. He died of heart failure at his St. George home.
Yet some of his friends are worried he's already telling their ancestors half-truths about them. Chuckling, that's exactly how St. George Chamber of Commerce president Russell Behrmann explained it at a board meeting Thursday.
Even Tyler Anderson, 35, chortles when he remembers his father's recommendation before he served his LDS mission to Japan: "It's easier to give advice than to get permission."
"He came alive when he spoke; he almost had a photographic memory on facts and figures and history," Blair said of his friend. "I think he was prone to exaggerating on his stories. He sort of fractured the language sometimes, often used words that weren't on target, but no one cared, because he told a good story."
Bart Anderson, a blood specialist and a former Washington County medical examiner, became one of the most famous people in St. George and was known as "Ranger Bart," a name he earned by wearing a ranger hat during nature hikes and lectures. A naturalist, he led hikes, discovered trails and covered hours of Utah history. It was not unusual to see 400 to 450 people accompanying Anderson on his hikes.
"It totally consumed my life," he once said.
"He cared about other people and their experiences and wanted them to be happy," says Doug Syphus, who founded the Outback Hiking Club with Anderson.
After moving to Washington County 42 years ago, Anderson started his hiking/ history/lecture series in the mid-1980s. He was looking for a way to get outdoors, but he had also noticed that many older residents needed a little direction to enjoy the outdoors. It's too hot to hike in the summer, but up until a few years ago, his evenings and Saturdays during the spring, fall and winter were packed. He talked at condominium associations, RV parks, at the opera building and at Chamber of Commerce events.
"When he was at the top of his game, he would probably lecture six nights a week," Shakespeare said.
"I don't think he ever had a weekend to himself," said J.B. Maxwell, another friend and hiking buddy who owns Hallmark stores in St. George.
Anderson has said, "Some older folks get depressed easily. They lose friends and family members and need something to keep their attention. This gives them an outlet, so I don't have to see them in my medical-examiner role."
Anderson also wrote three columns a week for The (St. George) Spectrum on Washington County history.
"He was a local asset. He introduced thousands of people to this part of the county," Blair said.
"He has served on almost every kind of board you can think of in this town," added Behrmann. "It just strikes me that St. George needed someone like Bart, and Bart needed St. George. … He was a treasure to the community."
Anderson's home voice-mail message ended with, "You have a nice day, and please, please be kind to one another."
"He was a very caring person. He cared how other people felt," Syphus said.
"My dad was a teacher," said Tyler Anderson. "He would even speak at his own funeral if he could."
Maybe hike there, too.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. today at the St. George 16th Ward Chapel, 550 E. 700 South, with a viewing from 9:30-10:30 a.m.
E-mail: [email protected]