After Elaine Dalton finished her 16 years serving on the LDS Church’s Young Women General Board and presidency — including five years as president — she knew she had to be careful with how she spent her time.
“I wanted to avoid things that took me away from my kids and grandkids,” she says.
Then Matt Holland called and asked her to consider being on UVU’s Board of Trustees. She thought about it for a night, and when he called back the next day, she said, “I kinda think ‘no.’”
And then her long-time friend — who she compares to Abraham Lincoln — said to her, “Oh, yes you should!”
Her respect for President Holland’s leadership and humor took over, and she agreed to make the 45-minute trek to Orem on a regular basis from her home in Salt Lake City.
“This is a unique opportunity to continue to be with ‘my people,’” Elaine says. “I get to cheer on these amazing young adults during a critical time of their lives.”
Elaine, who is known for introducing Virtue as the eighth Young Women value in the LDS Church, has completed her first four-year term as a trustee, and now as board chair she is starting a second four-year stint at the head of the Wolverine world. This position has this 70-year-old mother of six and grandmother of 20 speaking at UVU’s graduation (where she always cries) and co-hosting the annual President’s Scholarship Ball (swankiest event in town).
“I’ve had to learn parliamentary procedure, and my only previous experience was a class in seventh grade,” she smiles.
The governing board oversees university curriculum, policies, degrees, facilities and bylaws. The trustees are appointed by the governor.
Never too cool for school
Elaine’s transcript reveals her long-time passion for education. She graduated in English from BYU, and she uses her degree daily.
“Everything I learned in college applies to my home,” she says. “I also watch my daughter — who graduated in business— run a small ‘business’ by creating and maintaining a household. Every skill we learn can be applied in a family setting.”
But Elaine also acknowledges there are many reasons to put academic credentials behind your name.
“Education prepares us for the world of work, and there is plenty of time for women to do that,” she says. “It also blesses lives by helping families become strong. And when we have strong families, we have strong communities. I’m passionate about young women getting all the education they can — not just entering the university, but completing a degree.”
She’s quick to rebut the common belief that young women can get educated OR become a wife and mother.
“Young women are wrong when they think it’s either/or,” she says. “Some believe they don’t need a degree because they are going to be a mother. You need an education even more if you’re a mom!”
And to those who start their education but become a mother along the way, she encourages them to keep going.
“Even if it’s only one class, keep plugging along! Set the goal to keep moving and to keep improving yourself,” she says.
As a mother herself, Elaine would hold each of her young children on her lap and read. She didn’t send her kids to preschool and would instead use the saved money to buy books and go on adventures.
“All of my children are smarter than I am, and I’ve loved seeing the paths they have chosen,” she says.
Single mother, double expectations
One of Elaine’s greatest trials was the loss of her dad during her teenage years. Her mother became a widow at age 45 and supported three children and sent them to college by teaching school.
Elaine became engaged to Steve Dalton when she had one year left of her undergraduate education.
“My mother made him raise his hand and promise that I would finish my degree,” Elaine recalls. “Numerous times as the Young Women general president, I would sit at my desk, bow my head and thank Heavenly Father for my education. I wrote many briefs and proposals for the brethren. My English major and my background in literature have served me well every day of my life.”
Young Women values
Elaine — known as Sister Dalton to millions of young women and leaders who sat at her figurative knee — brought the seven Young Women values to life — and then added an eighth.
The genesis of returning the vintage six-letter word “virtue” to center stage involves her husband and a treadmill.
“He was serving as bishop of a singles ward while I was the stake Young Women president,” she recalls. “As he was exercising, I was asking him what I could be doing to prepare these young women for their young adult years. He said I needed to teach them three things: morality, morality, morality.”
She knew the young women would be navigating a morally polluted world, and yet “their power lies in their purity,” she says.
Her first talk as Young Women general president — and nearly every one after that — focused on moral purity and virtue.
Her LDS leadership positions taught her that every person is precious, gifted and loved — with the potential to be powerful depending on their choices.
“If I have anything to offer here at UVU, it’s that personal touch and that desire to let these youth know they are so precious and have an amazing future ahead of them. I know they hear that all the time, but it’s true. They are gathered in a unique place — UVU, for example — at a unique time. I think they feel it, too.”
“I’m especially riveted on my granddaughters, and we have an organization called The Great Girls. We are always thinking about what a great girl would do.” — Elaine Dalton, UVU Board of Trustees
Life is an open book
After giving countless general, local and international speeches in church settings, Elaine told her husband they needed to have more adventures.
“I’ve shared my whole life story with the church, and nearly every experience has made its way into a talk,” she says.
One of her favorite topics has been running, which she picked up as a hobby to share with her five sons.
“Running is such a metaphor for life,” she says. “You never make a decision to quit when you’re on a hill — you keep moving until you’re at the top of the hill and then you evaluate the decision.”
Her husband has been her running partner and mentor. She supported him through busy church callings long before she stepped forward into the most visible calling either of them had known.
“I wish I could go back and support him better with no whining because he has jumped in and cheered me on whole-heartedly,” she says.
Age is just a really cool number
For Elaine’s 50th birthday, she ran a marathon-length course across the Grand Canyon with her family. She noticed the rocky layers of black, gold and everything in between.
“The layers of sediment mirror the layers of our lives,” she says. “You have to have the black to appreciate the gold. The variations are what make it beautiful.”
Some of her black layers include her father’s passing and her broken leg as an adult.
“Our biggest challenges can also be our biggest blessings,” she says. “After my father passed away, my two brothers and I became strong and reliant on the Lord. We had to work together.”
Her broken leg is harder to see in a positive light, especially because she was told she probably would never run again and would have limited mobility.
“It didn’t turn out to be true. I’m even wearing high heels today!” she quips.
Elaine knows others have experienced much greater adversity, and she acknowledges her “charmed” life as she grew up in Ogden climbing apple trees and catching grasshoppers all day.
“And now life with Steve Dalton has made it even more wonderful,” she says.
The Great Girls
Although Elaine’s honorary robes and tassels are in Orem, her heart is at home with her 15 granddaughters and five grandsons.
“I’m especially riveted on my granddaughters, and we have an organization called The Great Girls,” she says. “We are always thinking about what a great girl would do.”
Now starting her eighth decade of life, Elaine says she has time to do all the things that are important to her.
“We have more discretionary time throughout our lives than we realize,” she says.
One of her time management keys is getting up at 5:30 a.m., often starting her day with a slow but solid run/walk — “I don’t want to wear anything out,” she says.
Counting the county
Although Elaine has only had a Utah County address once in her life — as a BYU student — she loves spending time south of Point of the Mountain.
“As a family we would climb Mount Timpanogos every year, and we would slide down the glacier to Emerald Lake on garbage bags — I get nervous thinking back about the narrow ledges and dangerous sliding we did,” she says.
She also remembers eating at “Heaps” (now Brick Oven) as a student, when she lived at Park Terrace near what is now JDawgs.
Advice for the ages
As Elaine looks back at her value-packed life, she sees a series of chapters — and of advice she would give her younger self.
“When President Monson called me to be the president, I wished that I had more to give,” she says. “I would have loved for someone to sit me down in my teens and 20s and tell me this was my golden time to learn languages and prepare myself for what was to come.”
Elaine’s last baby was born when she was 36. Her 30s and 40s were squarely focused on family. Then at age 53, she was called to be on the Young Women General board, followed by five and a half years as a counselor to Susan Tanner, and then five years as the president.
“The Lord put people in my path along the way who would be my board members, and we were truly ‘one,’” she says.
For example, Elaine “met” Utah County’s Karen Ashton when she found herself at Karen’s Sundance cabin without her. Being in her space led Elaine to call Karen as a board member and now lifelong friend.
Like leader, like leader
Another former Young Women general president, Janette Hales Beckham, told Elaine that serving on the UVU Board of Trustees was one of the most rewarding things she’d ever done. Elaine didn’t see how that could be — they had both traveled the world strengthening girls ages 12-18.
“I didn’t think anything could be better than my time serving the young women,” Elaine says.
Now that this natural leader has served four years for the Wolverines, she understands what Janette told her.
“Every experience is preparatory for the next,” she says. “This has been extremely rewarding at this stage of my life.”
Welcome to Holland
While Elaine touts several benefits to her UVU post, at the top of the list is her association with President Holland.
“He walks the walk. He doesn’t say, ‘Do as I say,’ he says, ‘Do what I’m doing.’ Time and time again, he amazes me. He brings out the best in UVU and in the students — and in me,” she says.
While Elaine is elated for another four years at UVU, she also has other plans.
“Life is a grand adventure,” she says. “Just last night, my husband and I were talking about our five-year plan and all the things we want to do. He hasn’t retired yet because he knows if he stays home with me, I’ll have too many things for him to do.”
Even with their busy schedules, both Steve and Elaine recognize the gift of today.
“This is a pivotal time for me, for the university and especially for the young people,” Elaine says. “I’m grateful for the vision President Holland had to allow me to play a small part. This is right where I want to be.”
Life Hacks by Elaine
Life by Chocolate
“My 3-year-old granddaughter got hurt playing downstairs with the big girls. She came up and said, ‘Nana, I need chocolate.’ At three years old, she knows I have a stash and she knows where it is — and the darker the chocolate, the better.”
Opposition for Life
Elaine has been criticized for everything from making the Personal Progress books pink to her views on womanhood. “Instead of stopping me, it makes me more determined. Opposition strengthens us. And that’s a great little secret! I’ve gained so much courage.”
Run for Your Life
Elaine has used many life metaphors as she’s spoken in general LDS meetings and at Time Out For Women all over the world. She began running to keep up with her athletic sons and husband, and those miles have been shared across the globe in the form of lessons such as setting a consistent pace, the importance of preparation, and putting in the long miles.