Earl Holding 1926 – 2013

Husband, father and grandfather R.E. “Earl” Holding was born November 29, 1926, the youngest of three children born to Franklin Eugene and Reva Johnson Holding. He attended school in Salt Lake City, graduating from West High School in 1944.

Earl learned the value of a day’s labor as a youth and worked many jobs at the Covey and Hillcrest apartments where he lived. Due to World War II, he was able to attend school for half the day and work for the other half. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps upon graduation and served in Europe at the end of the war. After returning home, he attended the University of Utah where he received a degree in Civil Engineering. In 1949, he married his sweetheart and best friend, Carol Orme. Even before they were married, Earl and Carol started their first business together when they planted a 25 acre fruit orchard at Dimple Dell. They worked side by side to cultivate and irrigate the land, harvest the peaches, pears and apples, and sell them to local stores. Earl and Carol were seldom apart throughout their 64 years of marriage; they formed an unbeatable partnership in business and in life.

Earl Holding Visionary

Earl Holding Visionary

In 1952 the Covey family offered Earl and Carol the opportunity to move to and manage the Little America on the western prairie of Wyoming. During the 13 years they lived and worked at Little America, the couple started their family and fell in love with the State of Wyoming and its people. From that time on, Wyoming became home.

Despite his business success, Earl never forgot that it was the people he worked with who made the difference. He often remarked that “you do business with your friends.” He inspired those around him to give their best efforts, and then, even a little more. He was as fiercely loyal to his family and his employees as they were to him. Most of the employees hired by Earl in the early days spent their entire careers with him and even their children work with the company to this day. Earl enjoyed working alongside his people and watching them succeed.

Earl deeply loved the land and the beauty of the American West. After spending his childhood in an apartment, he always longed for open space where he could have a dog and a horse. This desire eventually led to the acquisition of his ranches in Wyoming and Montana. He looked for every opportunity to spend time at the ranch working the fields, cattle and crops and being surrounded by the natural beauty of God’s creations.

Many of his business ventures were centered on creating something from nothing, making improvements, and building from beautiful natural materials. When planning the Grand America Hotel he personally traveled to Bethel, Vermont to select the granite for the project. He was fascinated by the possibilities found in nature, from drilling for oil to preserving a stand of trees on a ski run.

His happiest times were spent with his children and grandchildren, hiking, biking, fishing and exploring the great outdoors. He also loved hearing his grandchildren sing or play music. His face would light up when a new baby came to visit. Earl was known for his competitive spirit, whether it was racing mountain bikes with his grandsons or skiing his favorite runs in Sun Valley. He always wanted to take his family along with him, even on business trips, so he could teach them the important things in life.

Earl’s tireless efforts on behalf of the Olympics helped bring the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Olympics believing the Games stood for the ideals of athletic excellence and international cooperation.

He kept a silver dollar in his pocket which he often turned while pondering an important decision or challenge. He said it reminded him how hard it is to make and keep a dollar and that things in business, as in life, should be genuine. For him, the effort and fun of pursuing an ideal was its own reward.

Earl was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Earl and Carol were sealed for time and eternity in the Jordan River Temple. He remained close to his childhood friend, President Thomas S. Monson, who was his classmate at West High School. He was deeply moved when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang at a celebration honoring his 80th birthday.

On April 19, 2013 at the age of 86, Earl passed away at home of natural causes. He is survived by his wife, Carol, their three children, Anne, Kathleen, and Stephen, their spouses, twelve grandchildren, his brother, Ralph, and many extended family members, business associates and friends who were just like part of the family. He was predeceased by his parents, his sister, Helen Jean, and his close business partner and childhood friend, Kenneth Y. Knight.

Earl was fortunate to have the best group of nurses and aides ever assembled to work with him since his 2002 stroke, and the family would like to extend gratitude to each of them for their excellent care. The family also expresses appreciation to Dr. Craig Harmon, Dr. Elaine Skalabrin and Dr. Ted Kimball, along with the entire team at the University of Utah Stroke Center.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at the Federal Heights Ward, 1300 E. Fairfax Road, Salt Lake City, Utah. Friends may pay their respects at a reception to be held Friday evening, April 26, 2013 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Grand America Hotel, 555 South Main, Salt Lake City, Utah. A private burial will follow at their Wyoming ranch.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Earl Holding to the Boy Scouts of America or to the University of Utah Stroke Center.

Those who have had the pleasure and privilege of working for Mr. Holding hold him and the Holding family in highest esteem. “We will miss Mr. Holding as he was a very special person to us all. In his memory, we are honored to continue to support the Holding family as we strive together to keep Sun Valley the elegant jewel he brought into the present era. Thank you.”

Rolling back the years at Sun Valley


The Lodge and its surrounds in 1937. This image was found in Averell Harriman's papers at the Library of Congress - you can see the handwritten notes on it detailing plans for the grounds.

When Joe Burgy first laid eyes on Sun Valley Lodge in 1937 he thought to himself, “This is the most horrible looking thing – a dingy brown cement building stuck out in a hayfield surrounded by sagebrush.” The future sports director for the resort just couldn’t imagine what in the world they intended to do with this luxury hotel in the middle of the Idaho wilderness.

The transformation that occurred when Averell Harriman hauled in hundreds of trees from the surrounding mountains to spruce up the sagebrush flats around his million dollar gamble, is a testament to the power of landscaping.

The same view of the Lodge taken in 2012

Fast-forward to 2012 and the old lady was in need of a bit of a facelift. “That first landscaping went in 75 years ago and most of the trees then were collected off the mountain and Trail Creek,” said Mike Turzian, owner of Sun Valley Garden Center and the man in charge of the resort’s horticultural design for more than 35 years. “A lot of those trees have lived their life cycle and are at a point where they can no longer fight off disease. All the trees we removed this year were heavily infected with scale.”

So it’s a case of out with the old and in with the new as the diseased trees make way for approximately 350 young spruce trees, 500 new aspen, 2,000 sprightly shrubs, as well as hundreds of flats of flowers. The resulting look has opened up new views of the Lodge and let light back into the historic building, stripping decades off the grande dame of American skiing.

“It’s definitely brought the architecture of Lodge back as a focal point and not the trees,” said Turzian. The change is quite remarkable. I remember when I first saw Sun Valley Lodge almost a decade ago, I was surprised at how difficult it was to see the wooden facade for the trees. Today the sight is not dissimilar to that Burgy saw all those years ago, but instead of being surrounded by dusty sagebrush, the Lodge now stands tall amidst healthy young trees and the largest planting of flowers ever seen in the valley.

“The impetus for the change was both the age of the existing landscape as well as the  goal of bringing it back to the standards Mr. Holding so enjoyed, when he first took charge of the resort.”

According to Turzian, in his younger years Mr. Earl Holding loved tending to the landscaping, sometimes working side-by-side with the gardeners. “It was definitely his recreation,” Turzian said. “Holding used to insist we wait until he arrived to start and would stay until the end of the day.”

Mike Turzian and his landscaping crew hard at work around the resort. More than 75 people are working on the project, which is estimated to be completed in 2014

However horticultural historians need not despair, some of the oldest trees still remain. “The big trees on each side of the Lodge, and on the north side of the Inn were probably moved here by Harriman when they were 10 feet at the most. Now they are approaching 120 feet,” Turzian said. That could make them over 100 years old.

Going forward, the biggest challenge for Turzian and his crew is trying to create some diversity in the landscape using the minimal amount of northern hardy nursery stock available to them. It’s a tough job in a climate that routinely drops to -20. But the fresh look has also presented an opportunity to modernize. The new landscaping has been designed to minimize water use through installing more efficient sprinkler heads and a drip system, as well as selecting more drought tolerant plants, all while still maintaining the setting worthy of this special place.

Here are some images I snapped around the Lodge since the transformation began this spring. But don’t take my word for it, come up and see for yourself.

Happy trails!

Mrs. Sun