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South Jordan Journal

South Jordan fourth-grader wins Sons of Utah Pioneers essay contest

Jul 07, 2023 10:35AM ● By Julie Slama

South Jordan fourth-grader Bree McCleary poses with Sons of Utah Pioneers’ Guy Moore following the organization’s awards dinner where Bree won first place. (Photo courtesy of South Jordan Elementary)

South Jordan fourth-grader Bree McCleary knows some of the adventures about her great-, great-, great-grandparents, Charles Lambert and Mary Alice Cannon.

She shared stories of their pioneer hardships in the Sons of Utah Pioneers fourth-grade essay contest.

“I wrote how Mary fell in front of her wagon and it rolled over her back, all 3,500 pounds, but she was able to continue her journey three days after it happened,” she said. “Charles’ shoes were worn out and he prayed that the Lord would send him to new shoes and then, he found shoes in the grass — and they were just his size.”

Two months after submitting it, Bree’s essay, which was limited to 250 words, was selected amongst other entries. As the winner of the essay contest, she was invited in May to the Sons of Utah Pioneers dinner where she was asked to read her essay.

“I got up there and my legs were shaking,” she said about her first public speech. “So, I just started reading the essay and tried to look up after every sentence or two to smile, but I’m not sure I did. I was so relieved when I was done that I just wanted to sit down, but they wanted me to stay up there.”

Bree was presented a certificate and $50.

Along with her parents, her teacher Karrie Wardell, who offered the contest to students as an optional activity, was there to support her essay winner.

“We have been learning about pioneers and their role in the movement west, so this essay tied right into what we’ve been studying,” Wardell said.

Bree said that even though it was optional, she was strongly encouraged by her dad to participate — and she’s glad she did.

“I picked them because I thought their stories were cool. My aunt created a book about all our ancestors on my mom’s side, so I got to learn about them that way. The book has at least 100 pages, so I didn’t ever read it before, but now I look at some of the traditions our family does that my aunt has included in the book and that’s kind of cool.”

Bree said she shared more about their story in her essay.

 “I can’t believe that while they were crossing a frozen river, the wagon sank through the ice with all their belongings. I don’t know what I would have done if a wagon rolled over my back. If my shoes were worn out, I’d probably say, ‘Dad, can you give me a piggy back?,’ but they just went on. I learned my long-ago relatives did a lot of hard things and it makes me feel like I can do hard things like they did.”

Bree also was able to tie in what she learned in class about pioneers on the wagon train to her essay.

“My ancestors went from far places to places with their wagon, just like the ones we studied. They had a lot of faith. I don’t think I’d be a good pioneer; I’d want to be sitting in the wagon. I learned through their stories just how hard it is to be a pioneer,” she said.

Others in her class wrote about their relatives, including Bode Johnson telling the story of William Madison Wall, his distant grandfather, who had many roles from pioneer, explorer and church leader to attorney, mayor and sheriff, and who is memorialized with a life-size statue in Heber City Park.

Bode wrote, “I hope to follow in his footsteps and make a difference in my church, city, state and country, even if I never receive a city park statue.”

Another classmate, Claire Stevenson, wrote about John Pack, who helped settle the Salt Lake Valley and set up what was later to become the University of Utah. Claire also pointed out that Pack is memorialized with a statue at This is the Place Heritage Park.

“It gave the students the opportunity to learn more about their ancestors or other pioneers who helped found this land we live on, and it offered them another good opportunity to practice their writing,” Wardell said. “It was a good way to make the tie to our curriculum.” λ