SALT LAKE CITY — From an early age, Christian Gardner says, his father described himself as a giant.
"We kind of grew up knowing our dad was a little different," he said. "We just always had this sense there was something special and something profound about him."
Kem C. Gardner, chairman of The Gardner Co. and co-founder of The Boyer Co., officially claimed that title Wednesday night when he became the 32nd person to be named A Giant In Our City by the Salt Lake Chamber.
"Kem is a perfect recipient of Giant In Our City because everything he's been involved with throughout his career — from politics to philanthropy to business — he's been in the middle of everything," said Christian Gardner, president and chief executive of the Gardner Co.
During his 38 years in the real estate business, Gardner has been involved in the development of 2,500-plus residential lots and more than 23 million square feet of retail and office space, medical buildings, hotels and industrial facilities.
He's also contributed generously to the community, giving of both his time and money, said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve.
"It is the charitable impulse in Kem's soul, this generous reach of his heart that makes him 'A Giant In Our City,'" Elder Holland said during an awards ceremony at the Grand America Hotel. "He truly believes that the measure of his worth will be what he's done, not the estate he may have left behind."
During his acceptance speech, Gardner told about his ancestors, who arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and immediately began to build flour and lumber mills, roads and canals.
"I suppose I have genetic impairity to be a restless person," he said. "When I see things that need to be done, I get at it."
Gardner described his life as being "truly charmed," and he credited his parents for developing in their children "a sense of optimism, even in tough times."
"(They) taught us the values of hard work and to love of these precious mountain valleys that we call home," he said.
Deborah Bayle, president and CEO of United Way of Salt Lake, said "there's nobody who cares about our community more than Kem does."
"He puts his money and his muscle where his mouth is," Bayle said. "He has done so much to make our community a better place."
Gardner also is credited with contributing to the success of the 2002 Olympic Games for incorporating the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee and serving as chairman of the 2002 Olympic Ambassadors, a group responsible for fundraising for the Games.
In a taped message played during the awards ceremony, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney credited Gardner with bringing him to Utah to run the Games in Salt Lake City.
"Kem was the reason I got introduced to the Olympic Committee and got the chance to come here and help organize the Olympic Games," Romney said.
"Kem, we love you," he said. "You're the very best. This city is a great city in part because of you. Congratulations, my friend."
Gardner has been a member of Intermountain Healthcare's board of trustees since 1982 and currently serves as chairman.
"He has helped shape every major decision at Intermountain Healthcare the past 30 years," said Charles Sorenson, Intermountain's president and CEO.
He also serves on the board of the Utah Symphony and previously was chairman of the United Way of Salt Lake. In 2001, Gardner was chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber Board of Governors.
The Salt Lake Chamber is Utah's oldest and largest statewide business association.
E-mail: [email protected]