He’s the mayor of his own hometown and despite all of the peculiarities about this central Utah city, what with a monument to a couple of Catholic priests who stumbled upon the area in 1776, thus the town’s name and having the furthest inland working lighthouse at 600 miles from Los Angeles, both celebrating the unique cultural make ups of Spanish Fork, Utah; Steve Leifson feels comfortable here in his own skin.
“Isn’t it great,” says Mayor Leifson as we prepare to do an interview for Candidates.Vote. “We have such a melting pot here in our community. The Welsh were here already on the flats along the river,” he said. “And then we Icelanders were sent here to settle along the East Bench. The diversity of the two cultures maintained but blended into the community perfectly.”
*Disclaimer – It must be pointed out before I proceed in my feature interview of Mayor Steve Leifson, who is running for re-election; that me, Clark H. Caras, make my home and grew up in a small town outside of Spanish Fork, Benjamin, yet, considers both communities my “hometown.” However, I am not a voter within the Spanish Fork City limits.
Clark H. Caras – “Spanish Fork is a community built upon the cultures here that go back more than 150 years, but are still so established and in the root of most things. How has that influenced your life?”
Mayor Leifson – “Growing up we were always told we were Icelanders. It’s who we are. My grandfather spoke Icelandic his whole life. And that and the pride of where we were from created a desire for me to go there someday.”
Caras – “If I remember right you helped to spearhead the creation of a Sister City agreement between Spanish Fork and the place most of the Icelanders in the community can trace a heritage?”
Mayor Leifson – Mayor Leifson — “Yes, we have a Sister City relationship with Westmann Island in Iceland. I was able to go with a group from here a couple of years ago and visit there. And while we were there the Mayor of Westmann asked if I wanted to see the family farm.
We were able to walk the same streets as my great grandfather did, and see the family farm where that great grandfather of mine, Sigurdur Thor Leifson, had lived and worked.”
*Westmann Island is where approximately 410 Icelanders immigrated to Utah between 1855 and 1914. And in fact, on June 25, 2005 the President of Iceland, Olafur Grimsson, visited Spanish Fork for the sesquicentennial celebration of the immigration movement to the Utah city.
Caras – “Even today, the Leifson’s are known for being great builders. In fact, your father Ted built the house I was raised in and where my parents are still living.”
Mayor Leifson – Mayor Leifson — “Very proud of the fact I’m a fourth generation builder of our family here in the United States. My Great grandfather, Sigurdur Leifson, was first and became known for being a gifted cabinet maker. He was a twin and he and his brother came to Spanish Fork from Westmann with their mother Fredda. She joined the Mormon Church and her husband disowned her so she brought her sons and came to America.
Was a great honor to grow up hearing my Grandfather J. Victor Leifson speaking Icelandic in our home — he lived to be 90 years old.
When we hosted the Mayor of Westmann Island here in Spanish Fork a couple of years ago, he told me he’d been looking into his genealogy and he and I were related!”
*Mayor Steve Leifson is a licensed and well known contractor in the Wasatch Front area of Utah. He began that work with his father as he grew up and then in Texas for a few years as he worked with a friend there.
Caras – “So when you’re not building what does Mayor Leifson enjoy? Say, like what are you reading for enjoyment and maybe help in the mayoring?”
Mayor Leifson – “Well, my dad left me all of his paperback copies of Louis L’Amour books. It’s nice to have them because Dad was always writing on the inside of the book and I have all of that – 23-years of it. I just finished “Unbroken” and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I’ve usually always got a book with me and make sure I throw one in the truck. Cheryl and I have a deal about some of the shopping. I go with her, but there are times she goes in and I stay in the truck and read.
As far as books that help me with the city and other work? I enjoy leadership books and training like the teaching and instruction with the Seven Habits. I really do enjoy history and a favorite has been, “Flag of Our Fathers.’ But in my reading I am always looking for ways to improve.”
Caras – “You’ve served almost four years as mayor now and before that you served two four year terms as a city councilman. And now running as the incumbent for mayor. Why?”
Mayor Leifson – “I’ve gotta get that hospital built here in town. My dad was involved years ago when the city got so close to getting one here in town. I met recently with Intermountain Health Care and they have hired the architect and looking at a start on the northeast end of town in 2018.
Was here when we first broke ground for the Canyon Creek retail and office development and it’s filling up with building there right now for some national chains. But you are very aware of the one reason I can’t leave yet; I’ve sworn I’m not going anywhere until we get that sit down steakhouse and I can go in and order a nice juicy steak.
We were on a cruise recently with friends and went to Catalina. Walking around there all of the sudden there I was standing right in front of Steve’s Steakhouse. Had to get some pictures.”
Caras – “Should have used one of them in campaign materials.”
Mayor Leifson – “Spanish Fork was a great place to grow up. I’m certain I was driving tractor at the farm when I was five years old. Worked at my dad’s side when I could and cleaned ditch to earn extra money.
It’s been an honor to have been involved in the city’s Fiesta Days celebration most of my adult life. But originally is was a great friend of my dad’s and one of this city’s greatest, if not the greatest, Mayor Dale Barney talk me into throwing my hat in for city council that first time. I know I told him I wasn’t sure if I could stand to have that many people hate me. He put his arm around me, ‘Steve, you’ll get used to it.’”
Caras – “What did you find different stepping into the role of mayor?”
Mayor Leifson – “I found that I spend more time representing the City with different venues. I meet with other mayors in the county and talk about ways we can each help our cities.
I am able to meet with new businesses and companies that are looking to locate here. I love telling people about our great city employees, citizens, and wonderful volunteers. Really, for us to have gone through the growth we have had in such a quick time, it’s proof we have a great city staff and employees.”
Caras – “Heroes. You’ve got to have some?”
Mayor Leifson – “Of course my dad and mom. Was always very proud to be known around town as ‘Ted and Ruth’s son.’ Well there was my basketball coach, Joel Gardner, and football coach, “Delroy Anderson. I would have jumped into Utah Lake for either one of them.
And then there was my LDS bishop, Paul Beckstrom. Growing up there were eight of us in the ward (congregation). Bishop Beckstrom was such a great leader and teacher to all of us. We became close as friends and became known as the “Gang of Eight.” That relationship has continued into our adult lives. We’ve stuck together and our families have grown up together.
We enjoy 4-wheeling, golfing, taking trips together like going to Moab with our families. I’m proud to say we’ve stayed close as friends – something it seems is harder to achieve anymore.”
Caras – “As a councilman and mayor what are some of the things you are most proud of having seen accomplished?”
Mayor Leifson – “Very proud of the Canyon Creek center and the redevelopment of our historic Main Street. There’s our trail system that comes from the canyon along the river and throughout the community. It’s been talked about in national meetings and conferences as one of the best planned in the country.
With technology we are on the cutting edge with our own power system with the Utah Municipal Power Agency. And we have our own cable television with Channel 17. And with our Fiesta Days I’m proud to have last year (2016) seen our Fiesta Days Rodeo inducted into the Pro-Rodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame. We are known as the community of ‘Pride and Progress.’”
By Clark H. Caras