Longtime Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini dies at age 82

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) As Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini heads into her retirement the city hosts a reception in her honor at Midvale City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017.

Longtime Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini, who retired from office just more than three years ago, has died at age 82.

Seghini served in Midvale’s government for 32 years, first as a three-term councilwoman, then becoming the city’s first female mayor in 1998. She went on to serve four terms as chief executive before retiring in 2017. She never failed to win less than 60% of the vote in any of her seven political campaigns.

Seghini’s death was confirmed by Midvale City Council member Dustin Gettel.

“An absolute titan of Midvale politics, Mayor Seghini embodied everything that was good about public service, kindness, and commitment to community, Gettel told FOX 13 in a statement. “Midvale experienced unprecedented growth under her steady leadership, and she helped transform the city into what it is today. I wish to extend my sincere condolences to Mayor Seghini’s friends and family.”

Seghini’s ties to Midvale go back to 1938, after her family moved to the city when she was a year old. Her first job was at Vincent Drug on 21 N. Main, where she made milkshakes, malts and sundaes for customers.

She graduated from Jordan High School a year early and headed to the University of Utah at age 16 on an early admission scholarship sponsored by the Ford Foundation. She planned to go into medicine, but she changed course after her first year of college, when she helped run a summer camp with the Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation office.

“It was so fun to work with those kids day after day, and with their parents, and just make summer a wonderful time,” she remembered. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to be a teacher.’”

That’s what she did, earning her bachelor’s in elementary education, then her master’s in curriculum development and eventually her doctorate in educational psychology.

She spent 12 of her 26 years as an educator teaching in elementary school classrooms. Afterward, she transitioned into administrative positions, where she wrote curriculum and trained teachers, among other tasks.

On the side, she became involved with city government through the Planning Commission at the impetus of then-Mayor Trent Jepson, catching the political bug in the process.

“My first meeting, I made a motion and it didn’t get a second and I thought, ‘Well, this is no fun,’” Seghini recalled. “And the chairman of the Planning Commission said, ‘Now, sometimes you’ll make a motion and sometimes others won’t agree with you because they need more information. Don’t get discouraged. Come back.’ So I did.”

After three years there, she increased her role in the city — becoming a councilwoman, then mayor — and retired from education. Through it all, colleagues say, her background as a teacher shaped her leadership.

“I have literally seen her in a room full of very powerful people — including the lieutenant governor, the governor — and they were talking out of turn,” recalled Councilman Paul Hunt, grinning. “And just like a schoolteacher, she goes, ‘We need to quiet down now.’ And you know, when you see the governor go, ‘Oh, sorry,’ you know that she was just the schoolteacher that we all knew and remembered from elementary school. We just followed her lead.”

“If you can quiet fourth-graders,” Seghini joked later, “you can quiet anybody.”

During her time in office, Midvale doubled in size and population after annexing an adjacent area known as Union in 1998, which was the biggest annexation in Utah history at the time.

Seghini was also instrumental in helping turn a pair of Superfund sites in Midvale — areas contaminated by improperly managed hazardous waste — into what is becoming a mixed-use commercial development called Jordan Bluffs.

“We did what we did when we did it, and it was a consensus,” Seghini said of her mayoral accomplishments. “It was not my opinion — it was the opinion of those people elected to make the decisions.”

Funeral services have not yet been announced.

Tribune reporter Taylor Stevens contributed to this story.