Utah's Mother of the Year
By Sarah Yates
In what she described as “the most special day of my entire life”, LouAnn Newell Christensen of Brigham City was named Utah Mother of the Year for 2017 during a luncheon event last Saturday at the Utah State Capitol Building.
As part of the program, 14 women nominated as Mothers of the Year in their respective communities each gave a brief speech, which Christensen said showed “so much power for good” in their attitudes and accomplishments.
Although she expressed surprise at receiving the honor, Christensen’s selection for the state award was no surprise to the local groups which co-sponsored her.
“Our organizations, Ladies Community Club and Civic Improvement Club, chose LouAnn as a candidate for Utah Mother of the Year because of the vast experiences she has had as a mother, said Beth Allen, a club representative. “ We felt like she was a perfect choice to represent Brigham City as Mother of the Year.”
Christensen has faced many challenges throughout her life including divorce from an abusive relationship, single parenting, graduating from a university with three young sons (ages 2, 4 and 8), working as a single parent, re-marrying and blending two families that included eight children ages 8, 9, 10, 11. 12, 14, 15 and 16, the joy of a new baby with her new husband, a daughter diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, and the tragedy of four step-children passing away, three as teenagers.
She faced these challenges with optimism and became an advocate and leader for families in the community, including serving Brigham City six years as a City Council member and eight years as Mayor.
Christensen’s philosophy of parenting is both idealistic and practical, for she has experienced extreme highs and lows of family life.
“Creating a stable home environment allows a child to grow and flourish; however, when tough times fall upon a family it is difficult making it through each minute or hour of each day. Facing turbulent times you do what you can to survive then pick up the pieces and move forward. Relying on a higher power has given me strength to travel the rocky paths of loss,” she noted.
Healthy parenting not only provides children with the opportunity to develop talents and lifelong skills of living, but also to discover it’s okay to fail. Most of all, Christensen believes, a child must feel loved.
“Roles of teacher, nurse, chef, counselor cheerleader, homemaker, chauffeur, and advocate for a child can be overwhelming. Yet there is no greater joy than seeing your child’s, or grandchild’s, eyes light up when they see you and feeling their arms embrace you with a heartfelt hug,” she added.
Over 30 years ago, when she married Dr. John Craig Christensen, a psychotherapist, and moved to Brigham City, their combined family included Carrie, Paul, Sarah, John, David, Robin, Jeff and Andrew (with Lauren coming along later). John’s children welcomed and loved her, and she found them easy to love. They settled into family life.
Six months later, tragedy struck as they lost teenagers Carrie and Sarah to a car-train accident in 1987. Their grief was overwhelming. One of the girls’ best friends was also killed and they became close friends with her parents. Finding consolation in sharing their feelings, the two mothers formed Compassionate Friends, holding monthly meetings where parents could come to grips with “forever changed realities” and discuss grief related topics.
A few years later, the family lost another daughter, 16-year-old Robin, to bacterial meningitis. She went to school one day, became ill, and was soon in a coma that ended in death. Then their five-year-old daughter exhibited symptoms and was rushed to Primary Childrens’ Hospital where doctors saved her with antibiotics since the rare disease was quickly diagnosed. It was a strange period of grief and relief.
Christensen has expanded her mothering experiences to address the needs of children and youth in addition to her own. As she watched her teens making some unhealthy choices, she struggled with the realization that often friends had more influence than parents. She and other concerned leaders formed the Community Pro Youth Organization with the mission to strengthen families and to prevent teen suicide, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse and family violence, plus addressing literacy and creation of a youth activity center.
Her focus was a Teen Pregnancy Task Force prioritizing prevention, including an original musical themed to help teens understand the potential consequences of teenage sexuality, a Teen Mothers Support Group, and a panel of teen moms addressing health classes in area schools.
From CPYO, advocates worked toward creating an after-school program for children, which evolved into the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Utah.
During those years, Christensen found Brigham City to be a wonderful and welcoming place to live, but paid scant attention to its government until her husband suggested she get involved. She said, “I knew there was a mayor” but little else about city operations. She ran for City Council...and won.
Soon after joining the council in 1996 she presented an ordinance that created the Brigham City Youth Commission, with the mission of collaborating with youth advocates and finding ways to strengthen families. Town meetings were held to get input from the public, speakers were offered, promising youth were recognized in the News Journal, and a truancy ordinance was passed by the City Council.
Later, with Bear River Association of Government support, she organized a tri-county child and youth summit with leaders from Cache, Rich and Box Elder counties participating from various agencies.
But those efforts all go back to being a mother, facing the joys and sorrows of parenting, and wanting the best for all children and families.
“Nurturing a child is a privilege that I cherish. Each child that calls me Mom, or Grandma Louie (there are five, so far), has taught me how fortunate I am to have each one as an integral part of my life. I believe that motherhood is the most humbling and rigorous challenge a woman can face in her life,” she said.