Shauna George drove down 800 North behind Utah Valley Regional Medical Center almost every day this fall. A BYU student majoring in family studies, she watched as the houses were demolished, one by one, in the neighborhood where three generations of her family have lived.
“It’s not one memory; it’s like a million memories,” she said.
Renovations to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center will take up space once occupied by the Provo Park Ward, a family housing complex built during World War II, where many BYU legends once lived and served.
Professor Eric Huntsman, his wife and two children moved into the neighborhood in 1994, when it was already an old neighborhood “in transition,” but his old-timer neighbors remembered its glory days as a vibrant section of Provo.
“There was an old saying, ‘Everyone who’s anyone used to live in the Park Ward,'” said Professor Eric Huntsman, who formerly served as a bishop in the area.
The neighborhood was home to many BYU faculty and staff, past and present: Harold Laycock, of the music department; Carolynn Smith, of the theater department; Dave Webb, who ran Outdoors Unlimited and other areas of the Wilkinson Student Center; Floyd Haupt, a frequent family history volunteer and from the math and computer science faculty; Ralph Britsh, who started the humanities department; and Susan DeMartini; who still works in the Abraham Smoot Building.
George Durrant, a BYU religion professor prominent within the LDS community, is another who “used to live in the Park Ward.”
For Shauna George, the now-demolished neighborhood’s most important BYU ties are her parents — Ted Hindmarsh, a retired communications professor, and Shirlene Hindmarsh, retired from the health and human performance college. George has attended and worked at BYU, and her husband, James George, is a professor of exercise science.
Her grandfather worked for Geneva Steel during World War II, and he built one of the first of many two-bedroom homes in the Park Neighborhood for his family. George’s childhood home was just a few streets away, close enough to grab a cookie from Grandma’s house on the way home from school.
George remembers watching the first man walk on the moon on her grandparents’ color TV and walking to church in the little chapel with the pipe organ her grandparents had helped build.
Huntsman remembers how the ward would decorate the chapel with fresh flowers and greenery for Christmas, Easter and sometimes in between.
“It was like living in an Episcopalian church in northern England,” Huntsman said.
The house was small, and welfare needs were many as Huntsman served as a bishop, but he grew emotional as he described community members who loved each other and understood the word “neighborhood” as few do now.
“I’m so glad we started our marriage there,” Huntsman said. “It changed the way we serve in the Church.”
A few families are still there. Michelle Parrott is the granddaughter of Karl Miller, who lived in the neighborhood while working as superintendent of grounds in the early days when the Maeser Building was built. Her husband, Scott Parrott, is the current bishop of the ward. He said Park Ward’s boundaries changed in February to include two blocks further south, and the name changed to North Park Ward. A few of the older residents remain, but the ward’s growth has outpaced the little chapel and includes mostly married students.
Marcus Smith, a BYU Radio host, moved to the neighborhood with his parents when he was in college. He said about half the former Park Ward has now been razed. All the homes slated for demolition by the medical center are gone, and the area looks like a grassy park. The hospital gradually purchased the old homes as they became available and demolished them throughout the fall.
Janet Frank, the spokeswoman for Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, emphasized that the project will be replacing patient rooms that are decades old, but few new beds will be added.
“It’s not a hospital expansion project; it’s a hospital replacement project,” Frank said.
The former neighborhood will become the new parking lot, and the existing parking lot will become a new section of the hospital. This will enable the hospital to continue operating 24 hours a day throughout construction so the community can rely on the hospital, Frank said. The new plans are in the final stages of design and will be released next spring after the hospital’s governing board approves them.