Utah History Lecture explores the Eccles family legacy
What: Utah History Lecture, “Eccles Family” by Lee Benson, Deseret News columnist
When: 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 26
Were: Park City Library Community Room, 1255 Park Ave.
Cost: Free, but RSVP are required at email@example.com
Utah’s arts and culture community knows the Scottish surname of Eccles.
The name of the philanthropic family appears on the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Center for the Performing Arts at Park City High School. It is also seen on the Eccles Community Art Center in Ogden and the Eccles Theatre in Salt Lake City.
But arts venues and organizations aren’t the only beneficiaries from this philanthropic family.
Planned Parenthood, Utahns Against Hunger, the Hogle Zoo and the Literacy Action Center have all received money from the Eccles Foundation, said Park City resident Lee Benson.
Benson should know. He writes the “About Utah” column for the Deseret News, and wrote about the Eccles family and fortune last year.
“I asked my editors to turn me loose so I could write a story about the Eccles Foundation to see where all the money comes from,” Benson said.
The writer will talk about his findings and his column at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, at the Park City Library’s Community Room, 1255 Park Ave. The event, which is sponsored by Rebecca Marriott Champion, a Park City resident who is interested in Utah history, is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It became a pretty fun dive into the Eccles’ history, and I quickly came to David Eccles and his story of becoming one of Utah’s first multimillionaires,” Benson said. “He’s the Andrew Carnegie of Utah, really.”
David Eccles was the second oldest son of William Eccles, a legally blind immigrant from Scotland in 1863.
“William came to the United States with nothing but the dust in his pockets,” Benson said. “He got a loan from the Mormon Church for 75 pounds, which was the equivalent of $375, to bring the whole family, including his seven kids, to Utah.”
David Eccles was 17 when he arrived in the Beehive State.
“He had an entrepreneurial nature, and immediately began cutting down trees and sold them to the railroad,” Benson said. “That was the start of the Eccles empire.”
The empire might have found a different way to grow if it hadn’t been for polygamy, according to Benson.
“David had a wife, Bertha, who lived in Ogden, and right before the fuss over plural marriage began, he married a second wife, Ellen, who lived in Logan,” he said.
Eccles was 63 when he died while running to catch a train to visit Bertha.
“Upon his death, people discovered he, this millionaire, hadn’t taken care of his affairs,” Benson said. “So fate jumped in and all of the Eccles in Ogden got most of his money.”
Ellen Eccles and her nine children got a total of $220,000, and her oldest son, Marriner, who was 22 at the time, took over the Eccles’ business ventures, Benson said.
“He and his brother George formed First Security Bank, all of which survived the Great Depression,” he said. “That impressed President (Franklin D.) Roosevelt.”
Roosevelt appointed Marriner Eccles to head the Federal Reserve Board, and that’s why the agency’s Washington headquarters next to the National Mall is named after Marriner.
“The business empire kept growing under Marriner and George,” Benson said. “I thought that was interesting.”
Benson was approached by the talk’s sponsor, Rebecca Marriott Champion, to give a presentation a few months ago after she read his column.
“You always say yes to something that’s nine months out, so that’s the story of why I’m speaking,” he said with a laugh. “I do I love history, but I’m not a historian. So we’ll see how it’s received.”
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