PROVO -- In 1993 Rich Jensen walked into Independence High School. His first day there he met the principal, who often wore a T-shirt and jeans and would end up changing Jensen's life, as well as those of his five brothers who followed after him. Greg Hudnall loved kids and they knew it. His door has always been open for them.
For 30 years Hudnall has served as a principal then district administrator in the Provo School District. On June 28 that door will close as Hudnall says goodbye to the district and begins a nonprofit suicide prevention foundation, Hope4Utah, sponsored by Vivint.
"The best experience of my life in school was at Independence High. We learned to excel," Jensen said. "Greg taught us that everyone matters."
And so Hudnall's mantra of caring and service has continued through the years as a beacon to which students and parents have looked.
"I've been fortunate to work with him for a year," Provo Superintendent Keith Rittel said. "He has been an invaluable resource and has provided excellent advice and counsel. He has contributed to the district for many years. He will be missed. He will be hard to replace."
Rittel added that while Hudnall is leaving the district, Provo will contract with Hope4Utah for contracted consulting.
Gaye Gibbs, executive director of elementary education, has worked with Hudnall for several years. She said, "Greg has served tirelessly in trying to promote the mental health of children. He has brought the community partners together to help families, not just the kids. Greg's legacy is Independence High School. He loved the children that others would throw away."
Gibbs added, "He's always willing to help and he's a really hard worker. He's done a great job of being proactive with suicide prevention."
"I couldn't have planned my career better," Hudnall said. "I have been so blessed."
Hudnall started with the district in his last year of college. A year later he was made the principal of what was then the Provo Vocational School. He said he took the job on two conditions -- that he could change the name of the school, and somewhere down the road the school would have a new or better building. The school was meeting in an old military Quonset hut. Hudnall rolled up his sleeves and began to change the way the school did education. He designed a school coat of arms with emphasis in four areas: curriculum, vocational learning, performing arts and community service.
"One year the students gave 15,000 hours of service," Hudnall remembered. He also gave them rakes in the fall and snow shovels in the winter and told the students they were going out to serve, and he was right there with them.
"We created the Senior Citizen Prom. That lasted 10 years," Hudnall said. On Thursday nights the students were required to bring a "date" who was at least 65 years old to the dance. For every dance one tardy would be erased and for every five dances one absence would be erased. Hudnall said over the years the dances became extremely popular.
As the years passed he used his spare time to develop a suicide prevention program, working with other organizations on a local and state level. That program has saved lives of children in the district. They have not had a suicide in eight years.
Some of Hudnall's staff has stayed with him through the years. Donna Nelson has been Hudnall's secretary for more than 20 years.
"We always knew he'd be moving on, but not quite in this direction," Nelson said. "I've just seen his amazing ability to connect with people whether they're upset or troubled. He has a way of defusing troubling situations. It's an amazing ability. He's compassionate and caring."
Nelson added, "We'll miss him. He's touched a lot of lives in a personal way."
While at Independence High Hudnall required all seniors to take his class, "Life after Independence." Every year they would raise funds and the seniors would take a trip to Washington, D.C.
"I wanted them to experience history in the making," Hudnall said. "They learned to forget about themselves and serve others."
Hudnall said his joy is being able to build programs that build families. He said his three "Rs" are respect, responsibility and relationships.
"That's what life is all about," he said.
He added, "I want to walk away with my head held high. Provo School District has been so good to me."
Hudnall is now having to take his own lessons on life after Provo School District. He says he's ready and opportunities are knocking at the door. He is happy that door is still in Provo, a community he says he has always loved.
While kids have been his priority, Hudnall has also served in the community. He was on the municipal council from 1992 to 2000. He served 13 years on the Provo City Housing Authority board, five years on the municipal water board and numerous other boards, committees and task force assignments.
United Way of Utah County president Bill Hulterstrom has served with Hudnall on various committees throughout the years. He said, "Greg has been an amazing community partner, and always gives others the credit. Greg has been an innovator where ever he has gone. I expect him to continue on." A reception will be held for Hudnall Tuesday from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the district office, 280 W. 940 North.