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Utah County's first baby of the decade born in Orem

Emilee and Riley Duckworth of Lehi are the parents of Utah County’s first baby of the new year and decade.

Hudson Duckworth was born on New Year’s Day at approximately 1:40 a.m. at Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem. He weighs 7 pounds and 11 ounces and is about 20 inches in length.

Timpanogos Regional Hospital spokesman Nate Black confirmed Hudson was the first baby born in the county in 2020.

The couple, which recently moved from Mapleton, weren’t expecting the baby to come until Thursday, Riley Duckworth said. When they visited their doctor on Monday, “things did not look like they were any further along than they had been in weeks.”

Emilee Duckworth started having “very frequent contractions” Tuesday morning. After a 20-minute drive to the hospital and 14 hours of labor, she gave birth to her first child and the first grandchild on her side of the family.

“First of a lot of things,” Emilee said.

The new mother said going through labor was a “long day and a long night” but that there were no complications.

Around 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, almost 12 hours after he was born, Hudson was wearing blue mittens, a cream beanie and a camouflage shirt asleep in his mom’s arms.

“He’s just a chill baby,” Emilee said, adding that Hudson had only cried twice — both times while he was getting shots — and slept through the night.

Emilee and Riley both said they were excited to be parents. The couple started dating while Emilee, who is from California, was going to school at Utah Valley University. Riley had previously met her parents while serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After they had been seeing each other for awhile, Emilee decided to serve a mission herself in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“I waited,” Riley said. “And then (she) came back and things worked out.”

A number of local businesses and organizations, including Nu Skin, SCERA and Orem Floral, gifted the couple a donation basket filled with everything from baby wipes to an educational savings plan.

“Everyone’s happy and healthy and so we just feel extremely blessed,” Riley said. “We’re excited and we just can’t wait to bring him home.”

The second Utah County baby of the decade was born at American Fork Hospital at 3:27 a.m., according to the hospital.

In 2018, the first baby of the year in the whole state was born at Timpanogos Regional Hospital just six seconds after midnight on New Year’s Day.

Jerry Elison's theatrical influence gathered thousands

Jerry Elison taught and mentored hundreds, if not thousands, of would-be actors and directors in his lifetime. He was considered a gift to the Utah arts community and to his neighbors and friends.

That is why Elison’s funeral Saturday at the Sharon LDS Stake Center in Orem, was filled to the brim with fans and family honoring him through their tears, laughter and impromptu singing.

Those in the congregation that had been tutored, directed or acted with, or for, Elison were invited to join in an on-the-spot choir.

“About 50% of the congregation stood up,” said Adam Robertson, CEO of the SCERA Center for the Arts. “They sang (the hymn) ‘Each Life That Touches Ours for Good’.”

That is what Elison did: He touched lives and made them better, Robertson added

Gerald (Jerry) Howard Elison was known to most friends as “Mr. E.” He was born on June 16, 1930, in Oakley, Idaho and died Dec. 21 in Orem.

Even at the end of his 89 years of life, Elison died with his theatrical boots on. He was directing “A Christmas Carol” at the Hale Center Theater Orem but just couldn’t finish the rehearsals. He never got to see the show. He died two days before the final performance.

Laurel Barham, a former director and children’s theater coach worked extensively with Elison and has carried his mentoring style to many others both in Utah and California where she now resides.

Barham started teaching in elementary schools with no formal theater training and says she was constantly looking for contacts and information to help her gain practical experience. It was a tech crew member on an outreach show from Sundance that guided her to Elison.

“I asked the tech guy if there would be a time I could meet with him to learn a thing or two. He said I could, but he said there was a man locally who knew everything there was to know and an invaluable resource — that I should reach out to him. That man was Jerry Elison,” Barham said. “I had just been cast in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and Jerry was in the cast.”

Barham said she didn’t know what a big deal Elison was but they became fast friends.

“He mentored me from that point on, often piling his truck with set pieces and props and sending them to the elementary school for us to use in our shows,” Barham said. “He taught me so many things but most of all he taught through example the importance of loving what you do, and making sure the people you work with know how much you care about them as a person.”

Jerry graduated from Oakley High School and served in the Korean War. He attended Utah State University and graduated from Brigham Young University.

He spent most of his adult life in the classroom teaching choir, English, drama and stage crew. He served in the Alpine School District for more than 50 years.

Most of his notoriety came from his contributions to theater in Utah County. He directed shows at the Sundance Summer Theatre, Hale Center Theater Orem and the SCERA Center for the Arts. He has adjudicated and helped with auditions at several other community and professional theater organizations.

“He has directed more than 50 shows (mostly musicals) at the SCERA,” Robertson said. “Thirty four shows were at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theater. He acted in dozens more.”

His first musical at the SCERA was “Brigadoon” in 1986. He was already known at the Sundance Summer Theater and was one of the first directors of the Orem Summerfest as far back as the 1960s.

“No one has directed that many shows at the SCERA and no one ever will,” Robertson added. “He really knew the power of the tool of theater. He had an infectious theater bug.”

Some of his favorite shows were “Fiddler On the Roof,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Hello Dolly,” “Scarlet Pimpernel,” “Big River” and many more.

Elison has trained young children that, as adults, have found their theatrical path from Broadway to Southern California theater and throughout the country.

“I will be forever grateful to Jerry Elison for giving me a sense of self-confidence and for giving me his positivity whenever I was around him,” said Jason Evans of Orem. “He was a master of his craft. I will be forever grateful for him for trusting me with Mr. Fezziwig along with all the other roles he cast me in; for teaching me so much about acting, directing and having an entire vision of my craft as an artist.”

One of Elison’s protégés, director, musician and actor Jeremy Showgren, said he not only learned from Elison as an actor but he learned much of his directing skills from him.

“He had a unique way of helping everyone to discover their value,” Showgren said. “I learned a lot from Jerry as an actor in some of his productions but even more as a fellow director. Whenever he saw one of my shows, he made sure to find me afterward and shower praise on the production. If he didn’t tell me in person, he would mail me handwritten letters on fancy stationary.”

Showgren said Elison taught him how to be a supporter and cheerleader for fellow artists.

“Whenever I’m directing a show, I find myself focusing on the aspects that he was known to praise in order to ensure that I make him proud,” Showgren said.

Danielle Berry, SCERA stage manager said, “He wanted to give everyone a chance to be involved, if not in the show, then to work on the sets.”

A former student of Elison’s from Orem’s class of 1979, Laurie Baum, paid tribute to her teacher citing his profound love of theater and people.

“He could gently guide the character of budding youth, cultivating confidence and encouraging the timid into believing in themselves,” Baum said. “He gave people opportunities to live up to the potential he saw in them, and he gave hope to many a darkened soul. In a nutshell, if Jerry Elison were a musical, he would be all of the best lines and all of the best notes.”

Jerry and his wife Barbara Neeley Elison are the parents of seven children, 28 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. Some of those children are following in their father’s footsteps.

Jerry was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His favorite calling was playing the piano in Primary, the children’s organization, of which he was a part for over 20 years.

Baum added to her tribute, “It doesn’t surprise me that Jerry made his final earthly bow so close to Christmas when hearts are heightened with extra love to help sustain the sting of his loss. One thing is for sure, none of us are alone in our sadness in missing him. Mr. E made sure of that with the abundant community he created united with love, kindness and compassion. The lives he touched are countless, and the lessons he taught by example are immeasurable. The legacy he left will leave multi-generational ripples of goodness throughout all time of a life well-lived.”

New Year's resolutions, Orem construction drive large crowds to Provo Recreation Center

Things are getting busy at the Provo Recreation Center. But after years of practice, it’s used to it.

“Ideally, it doesn’t ever feel that crowded,” said Bryce Merrill, the manager of the Provo Recreation Center. “We are playing air traffic control to get people to the right spot without having lines or things like that.”

The cocktail of cold weather, shorter days and locals hopping onto New Year’s resolutions bring the center’s daily headcount up from the 5,000 to 6,000 a day it sees in September to 10,000 to 12,000 on busy days.

Merrill said the center handles those crowds by making sure various groups, like swim teams or adults sports programs, use different entrances so they aren’t creating lines in the lobby.

Crowds in January and February always lead to discussions about if the facility should have been built larger or what can be done to increase its capacity, according to Scott Henderson, the director of Parks and Recreation for Provo.

The facility offered about 40 group fitness classes a week when it opened in 2013. Now, it offers about 180 group fitness classes a week.

“We are operating at a much larger number now than they thought we would be,” Henderson said.

That growth has led to the center changing its management style in order to accommodate larger numbers. Even slow days, Henderson said, eclipse the headcounts that other recreation centers can see during their busiest seasons.

“I think our standards of busyness have been a little skewed here,” Henderson said.

The center is seeing about 1,000 more visitors a week this year over last, which Merrill said could be attributed to the introduction of the Triple Play Access pass, which allows users to access the Provo Recreation Center, the Peaks Ice Arena and the East Bay Golf Course, and the temporary closure of the Orem Fitness Center as a new facility is being constructed.

The Provo Recreation Center is hosting high school swim teams who used Orem’s pools, along with providing space for other Orem programs. Merrill said Provo is happy to help Orem during its construction, and that Orem did the same when the Provo Recreation Center was being built.

For those looking to avoid the winter crowds, Merrill suggests utilizing the fieldhouse at the Peaks Ice Arena, coming at a new time or using the center’s app in order to book a spot in a fitness class.

While Provo has seen growth this year, things are slow in Orem, where the fitness center isn’t seeing its usual seasonal influx of visitors.

“With our temporary location, we don’t expect to see it this year,” said Karl Hirst, the director of recreation for Orem.

The city is offering an abbreviated fitness center at the Orem Senior Friendship Center and offering passes at half price while the new facility remains under construction.

Hirst said he doesn’t know how many people have purchased passes.

“It is significantly down,” he said. “We would love to have people come to a temporary location. We anticipate that as soon as we have a new building, they’ll come back.”

The new center’s pools are expected to open in May, with the complete facility anticipated to be completed in early 2021.