Many are not aware that the Salt Lake Education Foundation was founded in 1974 by Utah’s 15th and first female governor, Olene Walker. Her innovative leadership made Salt Lake Education Foundation the oldest public education foundation in Utah. In the role of director, from 1974 through 1991, she led the “unofficial” foundation board to formally seek state of Utah status under the Utah Nonprofit Corporation and Co-operative Associations Act as well as federal nonprofit 501(c)(3) tax exempt status in 1990.
Prior to her service to the foundation and the children of Salt Lake City School District, she grew up in the Weber County area where she developed a love for reading and learning at an early age. She recalls, in her biography, that she spent time as a second-grade student reading to and helping first-grade students with their reading. Both of Governor Walker’s parents worked in public education, and she learned from them the importance of ensuring student success. Following her and her husband’s decision to settle in Salt Lake City, she became involved in the schools of her seven children and served in the Parent Teacher Association. She continued in both volunteer and paid positions in the school district and served on several district grant and funding campaign committees, including the early federal Esau School Emergency Fund grant. She saw herself as an advocate for the children of Salt Lake City School District. During her years in the state legislature, she advocated for the important role of school foundations working to support education efforts with philanthropic donations and community partnerships.
Governor Walker was a strong advocate for early childhood language development and literacy and was one of the leaders of the state’s campaign championing the importance of reading with a child daily for at least 20 minutes. Governor Walker passed away in 2015, leaving a bequest to Salt Lake Education Foundation to be used to support early childhood learning and reading. The foundation is dedicated to continuing her legacy by working to support the education of Salt Lake City School District students and their success as future citizens of Salt Lake City, the state of Utah and the world.