There are community projects that appear so enormous and tedious, so greedy of one’s time to accomplish, that nobody wants to voluntarily do them. Even that old aphorism about how to eat a big elephant — one bite at time — isn’t enough to inspire one gung-ho volunteer to get the job done.
Yet, members of the Tooele County Daughters of Utah Pioneers evidently have never looked closely at an elephant. If they had, a book of vital importance about this county may never have been published.
Less then two months ago, 1,000 copies of the “History of Utah’s Tooele County: From the Edge of the Great Basin Frontier,” rolled off the press. The 500-page tome, with more than 350,000 words and 600 photographs, tells the compelling story about how Tooele County’s earliest pioneers, miners and ranchers eked out a living in a harsh land fraught with hardship and opportunity. The new title is a major revision of the original book published more than 50 years ago, and out of print for nearly a decade. The revision also includes new material about the county that has never before seen daylight. Once you start reading, the book is hard to put down — even though it weighs more than 4 pounds.
Because the book was one of those “enormous and tedious” community projects, researched and written entirely by volunteers, its completion is nothing short of remarkable. The back-story as to how the publication came to be is truly as remarkable — and commendable — as the book itself.
About 12 years ago members of the local DUP took a hard look at the 1961 edition. With only a few copies left, they faced a tough decision: do another straight reprint, which had been done nearly 10 times since 1961, or completely overhaul its chapters, with an emphasis on more documentation, new content and to make the book a friendly, good read. But DUP leaders had a small problem. They needed to raise several thousand dollars to pay for the project. Instead of looking for a handout, or going into debt, they got busy and created a fundraiser. In 2003, they published a cookbook called “Recipes Through Time.” They printed 4,000 copies and sold nearly every one.
With sufficient funding in the bank, and a renewed commitment from the local DUP’s Tooele Valley Company and Tooele County Company, work on the book’s revision began in earnest in 2010 with nearly 40 volunteer writers, contributors and researchers. Lynne Bevan, Marilyn Shields, Gwen Roberts and MaryLou Jefferies volunteered to serve as editors. By 2011, nearly 140 separate articles and chapter revisions, containing tens of thousands of words, had been submitted. For Bevan, Shields, Roberts and Jefferies, their work as editors began. Little did they know that editing the submissions and preparing and designing the book for publishing would require incalculable hours.
For several months, during editing sessions that often lasted for hours, these four women labored over every word. Not just once, but several times. They did so not just to get the stories right, but out of sincere respect and gratitude for the volunteer writers, contributors and researchers who had made the revision possible. They also did it out of respect and gratitude for the book’s original 1961 writers and editors, who too had voluntarily labored long and hard to bring that book to press.
The “History of Utah’s Tooele County: From the Edge of the Great Basin Frontier,” is an example of how to start, fund and finish a huge community project through hard work and a deep, clear understanding of what is real commitment. And what is real commitment? When the unreliable emotional fuel of willpower and excitement wears off after making a worthy decision, especially one that will take considerable time to complete, it is character that pulls us through to the finish. The early emigrants who came here to settle a new land knew that well.
Deep gratitude is extended to Bevan, Shields, Roberts and Jefferies — and to everyone who took part — for a job well done, and for completing such an important community project that will share the history of the area for years to come. And thanks also, for reminding all of us about the value of real commitment — one bite at time.