Indebted to one man’s progressive vision

Wilson Sorenson, the second president of UVU and longest-tenured at 36 years, passed away Thursday July 30 at the age of 92.

Sorenson pioneered the way for UVU and was able to witness each phase of the school’s many transitions since the beginning of his involvement in 1941.

First known as the Central Utah Vocational School, the institution has undergone phases including the Utah Trade Technical Institute, Utah Technical College, Utah Valley Community College, Utah Valley State College, up until our current Utah Valley University. Sorensen was tenured during the first three stages of the school’s establishment.

“I am immensely grateful to have met Wilson Sorensen last May to discuss the rich history and exciting future of this institution. I was so taken by his passion and vision, he was truly an extraordinary character,” said Pres. Matthew Holland, who became UVU’s sixth president in June. ” He saw needs arising before the rest of the community did. He then forged ahead with a lot of grit and enthusiasm and self-sacrifice to go put in place those things necessary to meet such needs. The result of all of that is this wonderful institution we now call UVU, which still retains Wilson Sorenson’s open, practical, and can-do spirit.”

“The community and UVU family owe much to Wilson Sorensen, who was a pioneer for this institution in the strictest sense of the word. Leaders of his caliber are rare, and we ought to celebrate all that Wilson Sorensen did for UVU and Utah Valley. He will be missed,” Holland said.

Many associates of UVU have voiced their deep admiration for the former president and recurrent expressions of gratitude have been made.

“Wilson Sorensen’s leadership as president of Utah Valley Technical College for 36 years — and continued involvement with the institution ever since — has been an important influence in the growth and development of Utah Valley University,” said Utah Commissioner of Higher Education William Sederburg, who served as UVU’s president from 2003 to 2008. “He established an institutional culture of meeting the economic and educational needs of the region — a legacy that UVU honors today.”

Sorensen was in attendance at the new library dedication as former UVSC presidents, civic leaders and library architects gave remarks on the transition from UVSC to UVU. Sorensen followed by declaring that he knew the time would come when the institution he helped build and preside over for so many years would become a university. Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, concluded the ceremony with a dedicatory prayer as well as a few remarks on Sorenson.

“He has shown us the way to follow,” Monson said. He continued by relating the story of UVSC’s first groundbreaking in 1975 when he and other civic leaders were waiting for Sorensen to arrive so they could begin the ceremony. He described Sorensen’s arrival on horseback, as he simultaneously proceeded to tie his horse to the bleachers and grab a shovel for the groundbreaking. “I call him a pioneer,” Monson said.

A special viewing was held in Centre Stage in the Sorensen Student Center on Wednesday Aug. 5 from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. to specifically accommodate UVU employees wishing to pay their respects without conflict to their daytime work schedule.

Funeral services were held on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 12 p.m. in the Edgemont South LDS Stake Center in Provo.

What they said…

“I consider Wilson Sorensen a great visionary and a good friend. He was preaching UVU when “UVU wasn’t cool.” He had to bring nearly all of the legislature in line with his vision as they kicked and screamed and proclaimed that Trade Tech would never amount to anything, and the state shouldn’t waste its precious resources on “that” school. He persisted and fought and finally was able to acquire the Orem property where UVU is today. This campus stands as a monument to him and his tenacity. We lost a legend when Wilson died. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this time.”

Val Hale

“Wilson was such a great example of a servant leader. He was kind, generous, determined, hard-working, principled and visionary. But what I will remember most is his wonderful sense of humor. His quick wit remained sharp even in his advancing years. Thank you, Wilson, for your commitment to local higher education opportunities for the citizens of Utah Valley. Your legacy will not be forgotten!”

Linda Makin

“Dear family members of Wilson Sorensen, from all of us working at the Center for Engaged Learning at Utah Valley University, we send to you our deepest sympathies at the passing of Wilson. His influence as an educator and as an individual has touched the lives of thousands, including ours. Our program would not exist with out his vision and persistence. His legacy is one of true engagement and care for individual students, faculty, staff and community members.”

Jack R. Christianson, Dphil
Special Assistant to the President for Engaged Learning
Utah Valley University

“President Sorensen embodied the heart and soul of UVU. His love and generosity will always be an example on how to treat others.”

Dr. Bob Rasmussen
Dean of Students

“President Sorensen was wonderful to work with as we digitized his historic photographs of UVU in the library. These photographs are a testament to all his fine work over the years, and show how far we have come.”

Michael Freeman

“When the Sorensen Student Center re-opened after the last expansion, I got to pick President Sorensen up and bring him to the event. It was amazing to meet him and hear his love & dedication for UVU and the local area. I had heard so many good things about him, it was incredible to meet the living legend.”

Rebeka Grulich

“Every once in a while there is an individual who has the kind of vision and energy to create something of grand and unique significance. UVU is an institution of just such significance and Wilson Sorensen is that rare, creative superman who, as much as anyone, helped make it so. What a marvelous legacy he leaves. He will be dearly, dearly missed.”

Matthew Holland

“A remarkable visionary, Wilson Sorensen started an educational legacy in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The community has loved Wilson Sorenson and supported the many faces of Utah Valley University throughout the years. It was always a pleasure for me to work with Wilson. We even came from the same home area — Deseret, UT, and we shared common friends and interests.”

Elaine Englehardt

“I was privileged to meet President Sorensen just a few years ago at his home. His home was a reflection of his love for our university, Utah Valley, and also his love for the trades, the students, and education in general. His passion for education remained strong to the very end and he loved to share his stories. He left a great legacy that we are a part of, and he will be missed by all of us. My deepest sympathy to his family, and my thankfulness for having known such a great man.”

Karen Olsen

“When I was hired as the CTE director I was told that Wilson Sorenson expressed concerns that a woman might not keep his vision alive of vocational training at UVU. I sought out and met President Sorenson. I assured him I was keenly appreciative of the role he played in the history of UVU and told him that I was ready to learn from the best. It was a sincere pleasure to visit with him and I am honored that our conversation ended with his blessing and support of me to assist in keeping the vision of his legacy. Thank you President Sorenson for planting the seeds of opportunity.”

Susan Thackeray

“Wilson was a true educator, and a man of incredible vision, tenacity, and devotion. I met and consulted with Wilson regularly throughout the 14 years I was fortunate enough to walk in his footsteps at Utah Valley, and I always respected and valued his knowledge, judgment, experience, and total commitment to students. A university, especially one as dynamic and successful as Utah Valley University, is the product of the hard work of scores and scores of people, but there is no single individual more crucial to its creation and development than Wilson Sorenson. What a man and what a legacy. He was the champion of bringing public higher education to the people of Utah County. He was the father of the campus. He was, and will always be, The President.”

Kerry Romesburg

“Wilson was a great educational leader for Utah and Utah Valley. It was very clear to me that during the 36 years Wilson served as president, he established the organizational culture of innovation, hard work, and collaboration that has served UVU so well. Wilson was a true pioneer and one of a kind that will be greatly missed. I’ll even miss his goofy humor!”

William Sederburg

“When I think of Pres. Sorenson, I am reminded of the many large, magnificent trees planted all over campus. There is a picture, taken long ago when the Orem campus was new, of Wilson standing beside a sapling on the slope above the Business Building. Now that tree and its companions form one of the most majestic shade-covered walks on campus. Pres. Sorenson planted much more than trees but to me they symbolize the reach of his efforts and the lasting influence he has had on the development of this institution, the students both past and future, those of us who work here, the community and the state. I will always be appreciative of what Wilson Sorenson started, accomplished and supported.”

Bonnie Henrie

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