Utah statesman laid to rest

Utah Highway Patrol and West Valley City Police officers salute as Dennis J. Nordfelt’s casket leaves the funeral. (Kevin Conde)

WEST VALLEY CITY — Family, friends and an entire community said farewell to former Utah Highway Patrol Superintendent and West Valley City Mayor Dennis J. Nordfelt on Saturday, Sept. 6. He passed away in his home on Aug. 30, likely due to complications from pneumonia.

“He was one of those people who didn’t just sit and talk. He got up and did things … he walked the walk,” said former State Senator Richard J. Carling, who worked closely with Nordfelt during his term as UHP superintendent.

Nordfelt joined the Utah Highway Patrol in 1967. His career as a trooper took him and his family throughout the state as he climbed ranks. In 1981, Gov. Scott Matheson appointed Nordfelt to the rank of colonel and superintendent of UHP. During his tenure as colonel, UHP received a variety of national awards, ranging from a “United States Award for Achievement” for efforts with Arizona in creating the nation’s first joint-state port of entry to being selected as the “Best Dressed Police Organization” in the United States.

A flag hangs over 4100 S. in West Valley City to honor former Mayor Nordfelt. (Kevin Conde)

Upon completing 20 years, Nordfelt retired from UHP and began a new career of service to West Valley City. He was hired as chief of police in July of 1987, where he served for 11 years. Soon thereafter, he became West Valley’s Olympic coordinator, where he helped the city host ice hockey in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Games.

“He was instrumental in helping us build the Maverick Center and with all of the security measures, the transportation issues, the parking issues, etc.,” said Assistant City Manager Paul Isaac. “We were proud to be a city because of what he did.”

Although his many positions were often political in nature, those who worked with him said Nordfelt never let personal ambition guide his decisions.

“He was not a politician; he was a statesman,” said West Valley City Councilman Steve Vincent. “Politics never got in the way of making right decisions.”

West Valley Mayor Gearld Wright passed away in 2002, and Nordfelt was asked by several city councilmen to apply to the position to finish the term. After interviewing a handful of candidates, the council unanimously appointed Nordfelt as mayor of West Valley City. He subsequently ran for election and reelection, eventually stepping down in 2010.

Many of Nordfelt’s colleagues will remember him for his extraordinary manner of relating to people personally. “He treated everyone as though they were a long-lost friend, even if they weren’t,” said current West Valley City Mayor Ron Bigelow, who interacted with Nordfelt during his time as a state legislator.

A Utah Highway Patrol Honor Guard pays tribute to Dennis J. Nordfelt at the grave site. Photo courtesy of Kevin Conde
A Utah Highway Patrol honor guard pays tribute to Colonel Nordfelt at the grave site. (Kevin Conde)

Nordfelt was never allowed to stay retired for more than a few years. Gov. Gary Herbert appointed him to serve on the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission in the summer of 2013.

“In true Dennis Nordfelt fashion, he said, ‘I’ll take on that assignment, and I’ll do my best,'” Gov. Herbert said at Nordfelt’s viewing on Friday. “He brought a great slice of wisdom and common sense to what can sometimes be a difficult assignment.”

Nordfelt attended DABC Commission meetings up until the week preceding his death.

Nordfelt was born in Salina, Utah, in 1943 and grew up in Moab. He served a full-time LDS mission in the East Central States, spending the majority of his two years in West Virginia. Upon returning home from his mission, Nordfelt married his childhood sweetheart, Glenda Carlson, in the LDS Manti Temple; they have been married for 49 years. The couple has nine children and, to this point, 34 grandchildren.

Nordfelt enjoyed outdoor activities with his family, including fishing, hunting, camping and river rafting. In addition, he was an avid sports fan and, as would be expected from a diplomat, cheered for every college team in Utah. His first and true love, however, was the BYU team, and he enjoyed attending games with his sons and grandsons.

“If he had a character flaw, it was in allowing officials to get him upset,” said his son, Dennis Junior Nordfelt.

Nordfelt attended several of the colleges and universities in Utah, including BYU, but he never finished his degree. Four of his sons attended BYU, and two grandsons are current students.

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