SALT LAKE CITY — KUED’s premiere of its documentary “Auerbach’s and ZCMI Memories” on Dec. 4 marked the end of an era for the TV station.
The show is the last to air from producer Elizabeth Searles, who retires in February. A hallmark of Searles’ career has been making documentaries that help to preserve unique facets of Utah’s history and take a nostalgic look at the state’s past.
“I was happy that this was my last one because I had a good time and I like the product,” Searles told the Deseret News.
Other productions Searles has done over the years include “Utah in the 50s,” “Salt Lake City: Once Upon A Time,” “Remembering Uncle Golden” and “Utah World War II Stories,” which won a Rocky Mountain Emmy Award for best historical documentary.
The inspiration for Searles’ latest production was the stories of Salt Lake City’s historic department stores Auerbach’s and ZCMI that came up in some of her past projects.
“They were the big titans of Salt Lake City and they’re gone now, and so all that’s left is memories of those stores,” Searles said. “It’s only going to be another 30 years or so (until) there won’t be people alive that remember ZCMI … so I think it’s important to get those memories before they’re gone.”
A Minnesota native who attended the University of Utah in the mid-'70s, Searles never entered Auerbach's or ZCMI, but her job as a producer has allowed her to connect with these stores and other places of historical significance in Utah.
"I’ve never been in them, but I feel like I have through other people’s stories about them," Searles said. "I actually feel like I know Salt Lake City better than I do Minneapolis."
Searles began working for KUED as an intern in 1982 and has continued to work there ever since, serving in positions as floor manager, production assistant and associate producer until she became a producer around 1990.
“I started at the ground floor, hanging some light grids and painting sets,” Searles reminisced.
One of the best parts about working for KUED is “you can … learn and be whatever you want to be,” according to the producer.
“In other words, if I want to learn this piece of equipment, I can go teach myself on my own time or somebody will show me how it works,” Searles said. “You can learn whatever skill you want to learn as long as you have the desire to do so.”
For Searles, editing together the interviews for her documentaries has been one of the highlights of her career.
“I like that part because I’m just as much an audience as anybody else is,” Searles said. “If I can make myself laugh out loud every time (a clip) goes by while I’m editing or cry every time it goes by, I know I have something worthwhile.”
Looking back, Searles said her career as a producer has taught her to listen.2 comments on this story
“You’ve got to let people talk,” she said. “I’ve learned that there’s a lot of really great people out there, and I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them.”
Searles said she doesn’t have many specific plans for after her retirement aside from fixing up her house.
“I’m going to travel,” Searles said. “I’m going to enjoy my family because I’m the youngest, and so we all need to enjoy each other while we’re still capable of doing that.”
“Auerbach’s and ZCMI Memories” will be rebroadcast on KUED on Friday, Dec. 8, at 9 p.m.