By Briana Stewart, utahvalley
A handful of surnames have become synonymous with economic growth and improvement of quality of life in Utah Valley. Their success and business values are handed down from generation to generation.
Having 11 ambitious children is one way to spread your family influence around the county. But the Ashtons’ contributions began before any of their children took the ACT. Father Alan Ashton changed the way the world does business and the way Utah County grows businesses by launching Satellite Software International, which would later become WordPerfect, with co-founder Bruce Bastian in 1979. The influences of the company are still felt today, as many of the valley’s entrepreneurs have WordPerfect on their resume.
But the Ashtons’ contributions aren’t all economic. Karen Ashton literally willed a storytelling festival to life. It started in 1990 in her backyard, but with its popularity (23,900 attended the festival last year) it has now grown into its new home at Mt. Timpanogos Park. Karen’s goal is to bring diversity to Utah Valley so children can hear stories from the Deep South or from other countries straight from an accented speaker.
The Ashtons also brought us Thanksgiving Point, which is now the county’s No. 1 tourist attraction. This idea born in the Ashtons’ thankful hearts has grown into a home for the county fair, fine dining, the best-designed golf course in the state, unlikely gardens and a museum with 60 skeletal displays, making it the world’s largest collection of dinosaur bones.
The Ashtons’ children are building the community by raising families of their own, developing real estate and being teachers, among other things.
With a slogan about bending over backwards for his customers, Brent Brown is the most well-known car dealer south of the Point of the Mountain. With three dealerships, he controls the majority of the car market in the Provo area. He employs more than 300 people and sold 6,595 cars last year, which means he drastically affects what is driven on Utah County roads.
But he isn’t the only Brown causing a ripple effect in Utah Valley.
Brent’s wife, Kim Brown, owns Kim B. Media, which is a media buying firm that represents some of the state’s most prestigious companies. She is a master of getting the word out to help grow businesses and launch careers, including the careers of prominent nieces and nephews: the 5 Browns. This musical group from Alpine is the most well-known performing group from Utah in at least a decade. With their Juilliard training, they are inspiring thousands of young piano students to practice and strive for perfection. The 5 Browns are also generous — they performed at the Chocolate Extravaganza to benefit Intermountain Healthcare in February.
One of the first surnames in Utah County is responsible for five generations of prominent entrepreneurs. Carl Gunther learned the sheet metal trade in Germany in the 1880s, and then after emigrating to American Fork he launched Gunthers Comfort Air in 1910. His son Orville Gunther continued the family’s business tradition by purchasing controlling interest in the Bank of American Fork in the 1960s.
Orville’s six children have carried on the family’s business values. Five family members — including Dean Gunther and Blaine Gunther — continue to run Gunthers Comfort Air. Their brother Dale recently retired as CEO of the Bank of American Fork and now is a devoted member of the American Fork City Council, where he is passionate about the downtown district. Seven family members work at the Bank of American Fork. Orville’s three other children — Paul Gunther, Miriam Thomas and Debra Holley — have also supported and helped build the family businesses through the decades.
Gunther descendants also include an aid for Dick Cheney, doctors, dentists, teachers and a Harvard graduate.
But the Gunthers aren’t just about the bottom line.
Dale’s wife RoseAnn has spearheaded humanitarian efforts in the valley. She holds weekly workshops where hundreds of people come to put together thousands of packets that reach the needy corners of the globe. Dale and RoseAnn’s son Russell Gunther is a prominent landscape photographer. And the fifth generation is also contributing to the community. Derek Gunther Miller (great-great-grandson of Carl) has performed at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival.
The family’s businesses are showcased on hot air balloons for the Bank of American Fork and Gunthers Comfort Air, which delight people both on the ground and in the basket overseeing the communities they helped to shape.
Nedra Roney envisioned an idea — personal care products with only good ingredients — around which her brother Blake and others created Nu Skin, headquartered in downtown Provo.
Soon after the business began, most members of the large family became involved in the business. Twenty-two years later, only three brothers are still actively engaged in the business.
Their success has enabled them to be inspiringly generous, as they have sponsored or donated to many good causes in Utah Valley.
Two brothers are best known by their initials L&T. Lew and Tom Bankhead started their business in 1978 to develop and act as general contractors on multi-family complexes and large custom home construction. Now this Orem company is also involved in the major commercial real estate construction and development in the valley.
If you want to know where the next big wave of office buildings or homes are going to be in the county, have breakfast with the Bankheads and see what ideas they woke up excited about.
The next generation is maintaining the entrepreneurial bug. Justin Bankhead (son of Lew) owns High Country Home furniture, which has been featured on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Other “second generation Bankheads” include Lew’s son-in-law Dustin Dickerson who is a pilot based in Utah Valley and son-in-law Brett Allred who partners with Justin in a new business called International Sourcing.