By Shirley Bahlmann
Korry Soper grew up in Panguitch, the youngest of two brothers and one sister.
He attended Southern Utah University, where he met Karen Lawrence of Salt Lake City.
She didn’t accept his invitation to race cars down Main Street but talked to him in the
Albertson’s parking lot. “We fell in love from that point forward,” Korry said. “She’s
been the love of my life ever since that night.”
Karen was one of three children born to her parents in three years. She was only
sister, born between two brothers. She started her path toward becoming an educator at
SUU. She is current principal at Manti High School.
The Sopers have four adult children: Austin, Ashley, Whitney, and Taylor.
“We were a close family,” Korry said of his childhood years. “We loved one
another, and had a lot of fun together. At Christmastime we’d play board games, and our
grandparents would either come to our house or we would go to their house. Both my
mom and dad were great cooks, so I learned how to cook by observing them in the
kitchen. I guess I would compare it to watching a cooking show on the Food Channel
One of Korry’s Christmas traditions was sledding the top of the Panguitch Lake
hill down the middle of snowy S.R. 143 toward town with his brothers, sister and
“You certainly couldn’t do that today because you’d get run over,” he said. “But
there wasn’t much traffic during the winter on Panguitch Lake hill in the early ‘70’s…In
those days, the snow plow didn’t plow the road to Panguitch Lake.”
A less risky was an after-Thanksgiving Christmas tree hunt. “Our family would
go out to the east fork of the Sevier River near Tropic Reservoir and cut a tree, bring it
back home and put it up for Christmas,” Korry said. “That’s not done as much today
because everyone has the pre-lighted fake trees.”
Karen’s childhood growing up in Salt Lake City was very different. “My parents
divorced when I was 8,” she said. After that, her father moved to her grandparents’
house in Tooele.
“Because my brothers and I had to share time with our parents, we’d always
spend Christmas Eve with my dad, then he’d take us home to spend Christmas with my
mom, and Santa would come to Mom’s house in Salt Lake City. We’d go back to Tooele
Christmas afternoon to spend time with grandparents. It was very hard.”
The tradition of splitting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Karen’s parents
continued after her brothers and she were adults. In fact, it continued for 50 years, except
for one year, 1990, when Korry was training for a farm loan officer job with the USDA
Farmers Home Administration and they were living in Mountain Home, Idaho.
In June 1990, Korry began his career with USDA with high hopes. It was a dream
come true…until suddenly it wasn’t. George H.W. Bush was president that year, and the government didn’t pass the budget before Oct. 1, which meant many federal workers were not working. As one of the newest trainees, Korry was automatically laid off.
“We had just barely moved, so I wasn’t teaching,” Karen explained. “Korry
picked up a job driving a tractor, digging sugar beets and topping off the sugar beets for a
farmer. We scraped for food and scraped for presents. That was the one time we couldn’t
afford gas to go see Dad. We just told him that we couldn’t make it that year.”
The Soper’s didn’t ask for help. “We were stressed to the max, (but) we didn’t
want to ask for money,” Karen said. But Korry’s sister sent them $100 anyway.
“She somehow knew we needed money,” Korry said. “She just sent a check,
which goes back to show how wonderful and valuable family is.”
The young family did their best to celebrate Christmas. “It’s a long-time tradition
that I make a big breakfast for everyone on Saturday mornings,” Korry said. “So, it was
just natural for me to start making a Christmas breakfast casserole for Christmas
morning. It’s grown into a family tradition, and takes an hour to bake, so that’s how long
our children had to open presents.”
“Our kids still keep that fun tradition and make that casserole with their own
families,” Karen said. “They won’t make it any other time of year, because it’s just for
On that lean Christmas Eve, Korry read “The Littlest Angel,” to his two children,
a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, which he’s done every year for children or grandchildren,
“and he cries every time,” Karen added. “We also read, ‘The Night Before Christmas,’
and put our kids to bed.”
The next morning, the children didn’t care how many presents there were. “It’s
not how many presents you get; it’s the love you have in your family,” Karen said.
“Growing up, I got presents from my dad and my mom—we were always given
lots of presents. For me to go through that (lean Christmas) and be able to rely on Korry,
and make it work, it was a lesson for us that it’s love for family that counts, and our
“The crazy thing is, we got 2 feet of snow that night…so it was good thing we
didn’t go (to visit her parents). Things worked out for the best. It was the most
memorable Christmas we ever had.”
With two preschoolers, “we were basically newlyweds. It was a growing
experience for us, being on our own,” Korry said.
That beginning in Idaho led to his current job as farm loan chief over the state of
Utah. He works in the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City
as well as traveling around the country providing training, with many meetings in
“From that lesson in perseverance, I worked my way up the ladder,” he said.
While living in Idaho, the Sopers never missed visiting Grandpa Lawrence on
Christmas Eve and then driving back home to Blackfoot for Christmas Day. During the
holidays they would visit Karen’s mom in West Valley City, in addition to going to
Panguitch to visit Grandpa and Grandma Soper.
After many years of traveling, Korry and Karen wanted to move closer to family
in Utah. Korry found a job in Manti as farm loan manager, and Karen found a teaching
“Crazy thing is, I had to leave my job in Idaho,” Karen said, “so I called
Superintendent Lewis Mullins, and he said, ‘Good luck. We hire from within and have
lots of paraprofessionals waiting.’
“Barbara Eliason got my resume and told me they needed a half-day reading
teacher. I said I’d take it. But in one day, that job turned into a full-time second- and
third-grade split class. The day we found our house here in Manti, our home sold in
Idaho. (And) Manti is halfway between Salt Lake City and Panguitch.”
With both of Karen’s parents remarried and living in the Salt Lake City area, the
Christmas tradition lived on. “Our kids knew they’d go to Grandpa Lawrence’s for
Christmas Eve,” Karen said. “We’d see my mom Christmas morning, then go to
Panguitch to see Korry’s family on the 26th.”
“Because we were sealed with our children in the Salt Lake Temple, to this day
my dad would say, ‘Moving to Manti was the biggest blessing we received in your
lives,’” Karen said.
In 2006, Korry began the first of two terms on the Manti City Council, and from
2014 through the end of 2021, served as mayor.
As mayor, he followed in the footsteps of his great-grandfather William Luke Jr.
“William Luke Sr. came to Manti first, from Manchester, England and helped build the
Manti Temple,” Korry explained. “I firmly believe we were brought to Manti for a
reason, and one of the reasons I found out for myself was to be mayor for eight years.”
Korry discovered many ancestors that he didn’t know about buried in the Manti
City Cemetery. “That’s another reason we felt like we were brought to Manti,” Korry
said, “for genealogy.”
Korry and Karen’s 13 grandchildren have an idea for what Grandpa can do when
he retires. “Our grandkids love my pancakes,” Korry said. “They say, ‘Grandpa Korry
makes the best pancakes in the whole world!’”
Move over, Christmas Casserole. You may have a new tradition to contend with.