This is the giving season. This is the time when we consider the gifts we’ll give to others, especially to our children.

Over the years I’ve observed some stellar examples of priceless and timeless legacy gifts amounting to little or no cost in dollars and cents. These gifts may come in many forms.

The gift of education was exemplified a number of years ago when the Standard-Examiner published a photo and article about former state senator Ed Allen and his five brothers and sisters. Each of those siblings had earned a doctorate in medicine, law or psychology. When I read that story, I took their father, Merle Allen, to lunch to learn what he and their mother had done to raise such education-hungry kids.

A doctor of education himself, Merle told me that as parents they had created a study room in the basement of their home and outfitted it with a microscope, a telescope, a globe, curiosity-inducing books and other tools to stimulate the children.

The gift of encouragement to “follow your dream” was offered by WSU President Brad Mortensen and first lady Camille when advising their daughter, Brynn Mortensen Murdock. She had completed all prerequisites for another program she thought would make her more employable, but it didn’t really interest her. Despite the considerable expense of getting her to that level, her parents told her to do what she loved.

“My dad kept encouraging me to follow my passion, promising that if I were academically prepared and willing to work hard, good things would happen,” Brynn said. “And he was right.”

Since graduation she has been employed as public policy director for the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and is now playing a key role in policy and strategic communication for the Utah House of Representatives majority – loving every minute of her work.

Former county commissioner Jan Zogmaister was endowed with the gift of community involvement by her grandmother, a Red Cross volunteer; her grandfather, a state legislator; and her father, a member of the Ogden School Board and Ogden City Council. As commissioner, she reignited one and founded another of two of Weber County’s critical institutions. Her work has been of profound benefit to the mentally ill and the homeless.

Her inspiration is explained in an unknown author’s quote on the first page of her grandfather’s life story:

“I wondered why somebody didn’t do something, then I realized I was somebody.”

Referencing that quotation, Jan relates, “My sisters and I all are involved in a variety of community activities. We were taught that we were somebody, and we were taught how to serve.”

A leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as the community, Marlin Jensen reports that he and his siblings were gifted the joys and challenges of hard work by their father, former county commissioner Keith Jensen, on their dairy farm in Huntsville. Those challenges included hot summer days, severely cold winter mornings and arising at 4:45 a.m. to perform endless chores.

“Hard work is the great equalizer in school, on the athletic field, in mastering a skill or developing talent, certainly on the job,” he said. “Many families enjoy recreation together, but fortunate are those who are able to work together and learn the value of hard labor,” Elder Jensen said. “It was one of our father’s most valuable legacies.”

The gift of unconditional love was the only gift Layne and Jennie Brown knew how to give when their son, Danny, surprisingly came out as gay. They marched with him in the pride parade. They repeatedly let him know how much they care for him.

“Let’s face it, our kids are going to surprise us with things we may not want to hear,” said Layne. “Jennie and I believe that as parents we need to establish and constantly nurture ‘no matter what’ relationships with our children.”

These stories of education, encouragement, community involvement, hard work and unconditional love are just a few examples of forever gifts we can pass on to our children, or to anyone – blessing them and society in a significant, enduring way.

Robert A. Hunter is director of The Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service at Weber State University, where he also teaches leadership and political life. He may be contacted at

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