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Brent Taylor's legacy gets more cement with naming of scholarship recipients

May 27 2020
Tim Vandenack | Standard Examiner

NORTH OGDEN — Brent Taylor’s legacy has received a bit more cement.

University of Utah and Brigham Young University officials have named the first recipients of scholarships created in his honor.

“We are so impressed with each of them and feel they are well-suited to carry on the legacy Brent has left behind — the legacy of academic excellence and service-oriented leadership,” said Jennie Taylor, Brent Taylor’s widow.

At the same time, moves to create a memorial to Gold Star families in North Ogden move ahead, with plans for a formal dedication of the black granite monument set for July, after it’s done. Jennie Taylor has spearheaded efforts to create the memorial, emphasizing that it’s meant to honor families of all service members who have died while serving the country. But its creation has its roots in her husband’s death in late 2018 while serving in Afghanistan.

On learning of such memorials elsewhere in the country, her first thought was, “we need one of these here. You come to realize just how many Gold Star families there are and the price they pay,” Jennie Taylor said. Gold Star families are the survivors of service members who die while serving.

Brent Taylor, a major in the Utah Army National Guard on temporary leave as North Ogden mayor, died Nov. 3, 2018, while serving in Afghanistan when a member of the Afghan special forces he was helping train attacked him. His death shocked and saddened people across Utah and beyond, and it spurred Jennie Taylor to launch a series of initiatives aimed at assuring her husband’s legacy. She’s also put a big focus on making sure others who serve get the attention and respect she believes they’re due.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facility in North Ogden was renamed in his honor last year, becoming the Major Brent Taylor Vet Center Outstation. In January, Jennie Taylor took on a volunteer role as civilian liaison in Utah to the U.S. Army, meant to connect soldiers and their families and leaders at the Pentagon. Now comes the naming of the first recipients of the scholarships created in Brent Taylor’s honor and, last week, groundbreaking for the Utah Gold Star Families Memorial Monument outside North Ogden City Hall at 505 E. 2600 North.

Brent Taylor received his bachelor’s degree at Brigham Young University and pursued advanced degrees at the University of Utah, hence the scholarships his widow helped form in his name at the schools.

One of the University of Utah scholarship recipients is Nick Blas, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel seeking a doctorate in political science. His dissertation focuses on how the “post-9/11 narrative influenced the strategy against terrorism,” according to a University of Utah press release.

“I’ve deployed five times, and I feel like I owe it to those who did not make it back. I think it’s a necessity that we fully understand and explore the national security decisions and influences that have encompassed the last 19 years since we first went into Afghanistan,” Blas said. “I owe that to Major Taylor, his family and others like them.”

Russell Facer, originally from Clearfield and a member of the Utah National Guard, received the other University of Utah scholarship and seeks a master’s degree in public administration. “I hope that in some way I can follow in the legacy that Major Taylor has left, whether in the Army or in my career in public service,” he said.

The recipients of the undergraduate scholarships at Brigham Young University are Harrison Mayer, studying political science with minors in political analysis and data analytics, and Brandon Orullian, studying political science and minoring in business. Mayer plans to join the U.S. Army in 2021 and hopes for an assignment in cyberwarfare or military intelligence. Orullian plans to attend law school after getting his undergraduate degree.

“These memorial scholarships are a way to help keep Brent’s memory alive for generations to come and to give back to the community and state that we are so proud to call home,” Jennie Taylor said.

The scholarships will partially cover the students’ expenses.

Kirk Chugg of Follow the Flag North Ogden, which is helping in creation of the Gold Star monument, noted other Gold Star families in the area, including the survivors of U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jared Reaves and U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Elliott Robbins. Both died last year, Robbins while serving in Afghanistan in a noncombat-related incident and Reaves of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

And like Jennie Taylor, Chugg emphasized that the planned memorial is meant for survivors of all who’ve died while serving. It won’t contain any names.

“We have 12 Gold Star families since World War I from North Ogden,” he said.

Monument boosters are working with the nonprofit Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, which has helped with placement of similar Gold Star memorials around the country. The design will be similar to other memorials — around 8 feet high at its tallest point and 13 feet wide — but it will contain flourishes, still to be determined.