For most residents of Tooele County, the word pioneer invokes images of long-ago ancestors who arrived in Utah by wagon or handcart from the eastern United States or countries in Europe. These pioneers came to carve out a home in the desert, seeking religious freedom and the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
The word pioneer does not usually conjure modern images of airplanes, computers and the 21st century, but for the Seekins family of Grantsville, the term modern-day pioneers is an apt description of their adventures during the past 16 years.
Paul and Catherine Seekins were both born and raised in Yorkshire, England. Paul was raised in the small town of Halifax, and Catherine in Harrogate. They met at a church dance as teenagers, married in their early 20s, and settled in the large British city of Leeds to live their lives and raise a family.
However, as Paul’s career in the information technology industry took off, it was quickly obvious that his opportunity for growth would be limited in England. With a spirit of adventure and faith, similar to other pioneers, Paul expanded his job search to the United States. After one interview in Utah with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a series of fortuitous events in England, Paul was hired. Paul, Catherine and their 2-year-old son, Ben, packed up their household and moved to Utah within a matter of weeks.
“It was quite an adventure,” Paul said. “Everything in Utah and in England just fell into place so we knew it was meant to happen.”
Although the United States, and specifically Utah, are no longer an unknown frontier, for the Seekins family it was the first time they had visited the United States or lived in another country. They were already familiar with the language, history and many things American, but most of what they knew about American culture came from watching sitcoms.
“We expected lots of neighbors to be popping by with cookies,” Paul said.
However, after six months of waiting, the Seekins were still lonely and trying to adapt to a new country and culture. The Seekins spent the first few weeks of their life in Utah living with the families of missionaries they had known in Leeds. One family lived in Tooele, and as the Seekins sought for an area to settle, they were drawn to Grantsville.
“After living in such a large city in England, we wanted to settle somewhere with more of a small-town feel,” Catherine said.
Grantsville became their home, and they anticipate that it always will be.
“English people put down roots and stay where they are,” Paul said. “It is not uncommon to see families live in the same house their entire lives.”
Although it took them longer than they had hoped to feel like they were part of the community, they now really enjoy the small-town mentality of Grantsville.
“I love that a five-minute trip to Soelberg’s always takes more than five minutes because you always find someone to visit with,” Paul said.
The Seekins feel such a part of Grantsville now that Paul is willing to commute 140 miles round trip every day rather than move closer to his job at Mozy in Pleasant Grove.
It wasn’t like that in the beginning though. After those first lonely months, what helped these modern-day pioneers feel accepted and needed in the Grantsville community?
First, friendly people in Grantsville recognized Paul and Catherine’s lack of family, friends and even acquaintances in a foreign land. Second, Paul and Catherine recognized the need to proactively insert themselves into the Grantsville community. As a result, they began to feel like they belonged.
One reason it took some time for Paul and Catherine to establish strong relationships in Utah was due to cultural differences.
“People in Utah tend to be more open and accepting, but relationships are sometimes less deep and permanent than our relationships were in England,” Paul said.
He said this difference sometimes led to misunderstandings and hurt feelings on the Seekins part.
“We had to learn the differences between acquaintances and friends,” he said.
They Seekins eventually established deep relationships with several families in the Grantsville area. They consider these friends to be family.
“We don’t have any family in Grantsville or even the United States, so our friends are like family to us,” Catherine said.
“Our circle of true friends in Utah is small and selective, but these friends are our family,” Paul added. “They were a tremendous help to us in establishing our lives in a new country.”
As soon as Paul and Catherine began to feel that they had a place with some of Grantsville’s families, they began to find a place among Grantsville’s community. After Ben started school and Liam and Paige joined the family, Catherine spent hundreds of hours volunteering at the elementary schools in Grantsville. She is still a weekly volunteer in Paige’s classroom at Willow Elementary School.
Paul joined the Grantsville City Fire Department soon after the Seekins arrived in Grantsville, serving 10 years as a volunteer firefighter. The fire department also became a means for Paul to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing the bagpipes, something he was unable to do in England. “Even though I grew up in northern England, just a stone’s throw from Scotland, and all of my ancestors are Scottish and Celtic, it is not considered acceptable for an Englishman to play the bagpipes,” he said.
Ironically, Paul had to travel thousands of miles to make this dream come true. So when Doug Anderson, the fire chief at the time, approached Paul about learning to play the bagpipes, Paul was thrilled.
Paul quickly found a teacher in Tooele, the late Lance Sutherland, who was a sergeant with the Tooele City Police Department. Under Sutherland’s tutelage, Paul became a proficient piper and played at many events throughout Grantsville City and Tooele County, including funerals, Memorial Day services, high school graduations, Fourth of July and Pioneer Day parades, groundbreaking and dedication services and the Grantsville Old Folks Sociable.
Paul took his job as a piper very seriously, even working with Anderson to design a Scottish plaid specific to the Grantsville Fire Department. Using significant dates in the fire department’s history, Paul and Anderson determined how many and what color of threads were woven into the plaid. For example, the number of blue threads throughout the plaid represent the number of original members in the honor guard.
They spent hours custom designing the plaid, and then sent their design to Scotland where the plaid was manufactured. Paul proudly wore the specially designed plaid as he served as a piper for the Grantsville Fire Department. Today, the plaid can be seen in the kilts of the fire department’s current pipers, Paul Callister and Tawni Callister Madsen, both of who were taught to play the bagpipes by Paul.
As a member of the fire department, Paul also played an important role in helping to establish the Utah Fire Museum at Deseret Peak Complex. He secured the domain, designed and launched the website that is still in use today at www.utahfiremuseum.co. He also selected the uniforms and dressed the mannequins in the museum.
Paul’s community contributions extended beyond the Grantsville Fire Department as well. Paul and Sutherland became very close friends, and together they created the Tooele Valley Highlanders, a bagpipe band that plays at events throughout Tooele County. Although Paul no longer plays with the Tooele Valley Highlanders, he continues his love of piping with the Utah Pipe Band. He plays in honor and memory of Sutherland, who passed away last year. Paul played the bagpipes at his funeral.
“It was probably the most difficult performance I’ve ever given,” he said.
With so many community contributions, good friends, and 16 years of living in Grantsville, the Seekins family truly feels like they belong. Of course, there are still some differences that stand out.
Paul, in particular, misses British food, so he has become a proficient English cook. The Seekins children have been raised to love both American and British food. Family dinnertime is likely to include favorite English dishes like sausage rolls, English scones, trifle or beans on toast. A family favorite is “pie and peas” which includes what Americans would refer to as a “pot pie” covered with malt vinegar and green peas. And when the Seekins family has an urge for real English-style fish and chips, they always eat at Little Taste of Britain in Layton.
“Nothing else compares,” Paul said.
Another big difference for both Paul and Catherine is raising children in a school system that is different from the one they grew up in. Catherine notes that students in England still wear uniforms and girls are only allowed to wear very minimal makeup and jewelry. Both Paul and Catherine feel that this leads to more respect for authority among the youth in England.
On the other hand, she and Paul both love the fact that in the United States school system, teachers are so accessible to parents.
“In England, teachers are almost untouchable,” Catherine said. “In the United States, our children’s teachers are also our neighbors and friends, and people that we see in church and at other community events.”
Besides food and schools, another notable difference for the Seekins family is the abundance of after-school activities available to their children.
“In England, there are not a lot of extra activities for children to participate in after school, so children hang out on the streets and will try smoking and alcohol at young ages,” Paul said. “Here, we can keep them busy so they stay out of trouble.”
All of the Seekins children play sports, and Paige likes to dance as well. Their oldest son, Ben, a recent Grantsville High School graduate, just finished a very successful high school track career, receiving awards at both region and state.
Differences aside, the Seekins have sunk their British roots firmly in the soil of Grantsville. These modern-day pioneers have carved out a home and a life in the desert of Utah. And like so many before them, Tooele County is the place the Seekins family now calls home.