A city councilman in the heart of Utah where one faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, dominates, there is in the park across from city hall a beautiful bronze statue of two Catholic priests who, after walking from Santa Fe in 1776, named the area Spanish Fork and dedicated it for the building of a Spanish Mission. Instead Councilman Mike Mendenhall sometimes rides his Harley to council meeting past the largest Krishna Temple in America that once a year brings more than 50,000 people into the city of 42,000 for the Holi Festival of Colors celebrating the beginning of spring. Or, Councilman Mendenhall can ride past the working lighthouse — declared by Guinness as the world’s furthest inland working lighthouse, which is a monument to the immigration to Spanish Fork of hundreds of Icelandic pioneers all from one island; pretty much leaving the island empty of human occupation for a couple of decades.
Clark H. Caras had the opportunity to put several questions to Mendenhall, who in 2018 began his second four year term on the Spanish Fork city council and who in 2019 was elected 1stVice President of the Utah League of Cities and Towns – an organization including 248 Utah cities and towns of all sizes throughout Utah.
Candidates.vote– So Councilman Mendenhall; are you a hamburger or cheeseburger guy?
Candidates.vote– Pickles or no pickles?
Mendenhall– Pickles at Glades (an iconic drive-in along Spanish Fork Main Street) and Stone Drug (Main Street drug store with one of America’s last malt-shop lunch bars); but everywhere else – no pickles!
Candidates.vote– You’re a young man, married and with three children. Your Tuesday nights are taken up with long city council meetings and other night’s community events and department meetings you are charged with.
What was it that directed you to get involved in politics?
Mendenhall – A combination of my work as a community banker and serving in the chamber of commerce. Seeing the involvement others were giving to the community is rewarding. And I guess I began to have an understanding there were previous councils that sacrificed greater than I.
Candidates.vote– Do you find it unique Spanish Fork is the only Mormon community in Utah with a monument to Catholic priests?
Mendenhall– Super proud of that monument. You can tell me if I’m in error, but when you look up in the rotunda of the Utah State Capital its Fathers Escalante and Dominquez depicted in one of the four murals. I’m hoping it is, because if not I have been misleading people telling them that is “us”. (Councilman Mendenhall is correct in his knowledge one of the four murals honors the two Franciscan priests.)
Candidates.vote– You live in a very unique community. It’s one of Utah’s fastest growing and yet it’s part of the state’s last major agricultural areas. What do you like most about Spanish Fork?
Mendenhall– Pride and Progress (A verbal and visual logo used in the city during the 1960’s that Mendenhall has helped resurrect.) I like that we’re a community proud to say, “We’re from here!” I also love that we’re not afraid of progress, in fact, we prepare for it and lean into it.
Candidates.vote– What do you enjoy doing most with your family, especially in Spanish Fork?
Mendenhall – Spanish Fork Fiesta Days in July. (In Utah the 24thof July is celebrated as the first day Brigham Young and his company of Latter-Day Saints first entered the Salt Lake Valley. In most Utah communities it’s known as ‘Pioneer Day’)
Candidates.vote– Yes, weren’t you and your wife Amber the chairpersons of the celebration a few years ago? And wasn’t the Fiesta Days Rodeo recently inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame?
Mendenhall – Yes, on both accounts. From four nights of one of the premiere PRCA rodeos filled with nationally recognized cowboys and cowgirls, to parades, carnival and two nights of fireworks; we are a community that knows how to work together and throw a celebration.
Candidates.vote– What’s the last good film you and Amber went to?
Mendenhall – She took me to A Star is Born. Didn’t think I’d like it – listen to the music regularly now. Try new things Clark, you might like it!
Candidates.vote– What book are you reading right now?
Mendenhall – “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box”, by the Arbinger Institute. And, “The New Localism”, given to me by Congressman Ben McAdams when he was Salt Lake County Mayor. Do podcasts count? If they do then count Malcom Gladwell, NPR and Joe Rogan.
Candidates.vote– What book, or books, had the most impact on you?
Mendenhall– The New Testament and Book of Mormon. Together reading them convinced me to serve a two year ecclesiastical mission to Minnesota for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Candidates.vote– 1stVice President of the Utah League of Cities and Towns has to be a bit like jumping from the frying pan into the fire? Going from representing Spanish Fork and its approximately 45,000 citizens to a position where you are representing those of the ULCT’s 248 communities.
Mendenhall— The collective voice the League has been for decades, for local government; it is something special and unmatched.
I love the different dynamics of leadership from a Park City, to a Santaquin, to a Moab, and all 248 cities and towns in between. The local leaders who do their level best for their communities every day are an inspiration to me.
Candidates.vote– It’s April 7, 2019 and we are just one weekend past from the 2019 Holi Festival of Colors at what is touted as the biggest Krishna Temple in at least the western United States, if not the country.
It’s even my understanding many local Latter-Day Saint congregations organized work crews to help complete the temple and the Latter-Day Saint church donated money to the effort. Have you ever participated in the Festival of Colors?
Mendenhall– Yes, I have. In 2011 I rode my 1979 Harley Ironhead Sportster down Main Street at Sturgis – and that was an experience. That same year I forgot it was the Holi Festival and I got caught in the traffic on the highway going past the Krishna Temple to Spanish Fork Main Street.
Felt exactly the same way as when I was at Sturgis. Either place, those will be the hardest colors to come your way.