Many people go about doing good deeds in their families, neighborhoods, organizations and church congregations. “Utah Valley’s Everyday Heroes” will celebrate these unsung community members and bring to light their quiet contributions.
It’s hard to imagine it now, but Orem — today the second most populous city in the county — was once a very small town filled with farms, orchards and ranches. It wasn’t the main thoroughfare and hub it is now.
But Orem wouldn’t be what it is today without people like Dover Hunt, who turned 100 years old Monday. Hunt, who can actually remember the first time he used a telephone at age 18, is fondly known in the community as “Mr. SCERA.” He was named manager of the SCERA Center for the Arts in 1951 — back when it was just known as the SCERA Center. In those early years, Hunt’s oldest son, Jim Hunt, recalled that there were probably only about 4,500 Orem residents compared to the 90,000 residents today.
During that time, the SCERA was struggling, as most movie theaters of the day, because of a new invention: the television.
“Television was saturating the area, and theaters were going broke then. People just weren’t going to the movies,” Dover Hunt recalled.
But Dover Hunt accepted the manager position, and set about creating solid relationships with the movie distributors of the day, while also focusing on getting the SCERA center out of debt. He accomplished this within just his first few years, though he’ll be the first to tell you that as a farmer’s son, he never was as formally educated as he’d wished to be.
“I knew nothing about the theater business, but I read everything, and I learned,” Dover Hunt said.
In celebrating his birthday Monday, the centenarian was visited by more than 50 family and friends and community members, all there to honor his many contributions to the community. Though Utah County is a booming area now, many of today’s residents forget, or don’t even know, how these cities were once just small, small towns. It is because of Dover Hunt, and other leaders from his generation, who turned these towns into the thriving metros of innovation and advancement they are now.
“He was a prime mover in this city,” said Stella Walsh, a former Orem mayor who worked with Dover Hunt during some of his 30 years as SCERA manager. “He always had the interest of the community at heart, and was a great developer of Orem city.”
Dover Hunt took over the SCERA at a time when it was mostly just a movie theater sitting on a small lot of land. When he retired from the position in 1981, the SCERA had become a major hub of in the city. Under Dover Hunt’s leadership, the SCERA created recreation programs that included indoor and outdoor sports, a pool that drew members of the community from all over the county, and purchases of property and park land that both helped the SCERA financially and created ball fields and green space for the community.
“The SCERA was the backbone of the community for so many years. The park, the theater, the pool – it was the gathering place,” Jim Hunt said. “He’s a very visionary man. If he hadn’t had that vision – people couldn’t see what he could see it could be. But he realized how important it was.”
Dover Hunt’s vision – his ability to see where something could be improved by smart business decisions – laid the foundation for thousands who participated in SCERA activities, but also for thousands within other parts of the community as well. In addition to developing the SCERA, he also was instrumental in developing Camp MIA Shalom in Sanpete County. Under Hunt’s direction, the campsite was purchased and developed in the late 60s as a place for young women of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints to gather in the summers. It still serves as a girl’s camp for multiple LDS stakes in Orem and Provo.
“When I was serving as a bishop (in the LDS church), I would regularly visit with the young women of our ward. They repeatedly said that the most important influence on their faith and testimony was at Girl’s Camp,” said Brent Webb, a former stake president of the LDS Orem Cascade Stake.
Dover Hunt’s hand touched many other areas of early Orem, but he has never been one to enjoy the limelight, often turning down suggestions by community members to be honored. To listen to his stories, one feels almost there with him, as his recall of names, dates, numbers, faces and conversations is superb. And of those memories, he will tell listeners that what he did was only part of a huge group of hardworking people, recalling those he partnered with, and honoring the hundreds of volunteers that worked at the SCERA over the years.
“If I had a weakness, I found the person to fill that weakness for me,” Dover Hunt said. “And our volunteers were always so dependable and dedicated. The SCERA is an outstanding example of what you can do with volunteer work.”
As the “entrepreneurs” of yesteryear, Dover Hunt and his contemporaries laid a firm foundation that the younger generation is still reaping the benefits of and building upon.
“I think ‘leader’ sums up what Dover was. In the community, in church, everything he touched. There are a lot of things he did that will go on for generations,” said Adam Robertson, current president and CEO of the SCERA.