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Tailgaters Embrace ‘Family On Three’, Plant Tree For Lost Member

Sep 22, 2022, 8:22 AM
Utah-Tailgaters-Honor-Friend-With-Tree-At-Guardsmen-Lot...
UTah tailgaters remembered fellow friend and fan Karon Hunter before the San Diego State Game by planting a tree in her honor at the Guardsman Lot. (Photo Cred Michelle Bodkin)
(Photo Cred Michelle Bodkin)

SALT LAKE CITY- “Family On Three” is a mantra anyone even remotely associated with Utah Athletics is familiar with. Even the tailgating culture has latched onto the saying in recent years. During Saturday’s festivities ahead of the San Diego State game, a few of Utah’s tailgaters came together to remember a friend lost suddenly in January.

Lezlee Smith Danner arranged the memorial for Karon Hunter with a tree planted in her honor just a few steps away from where everyone comes together to eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company before every Utah home game.

“Karen was just one of our tailgating friends,” Danner. “I met her about five seasons ago and she was a long time Utes fan. She tailgated with our group at Albert [Gamboa’s] tailgating with Shasta Utes. She just knew a lot of people. That’s kind of how everyone met her was just tailgating. She passed away suddenly in January a couple of weeks after the Rose Bowl.”

Family On Three

Danner along with another fellow tailgater drove down to Utah County for Hunter’s services upon learning of her sudden death. Obviously, because it would have been exactly what Hunter would have wanted, the pair showed up decked out in red and prepared with Utah gear to deck her casket out with.

“We stopped at the Red Zone and took some flags,” Danner said. “Karon’s bishop acknowledged we were there representing her tailgating family during the services. We talked to her mom, and her son, and her brother and just decided we wanted to do something for her at one of the home games.”

That’s when Danner got to work contacting the university to see what, if anything they would be allowed to do for Hunter this upcoming football season. A quick call to the facilities department revealed that Danner and the rest of Hunter’s tailgating family could plant a tree in her honor, just feet away from where they gather every Saturday in the fall.

“I reached out to facilities at the U and asked if we could do something- a beautification or whatever and started talking to Susan Pope,” Danner said. “She contacted Darrell Peters and it all just kind of came together. Where they planted the tree is less than 100 feet away from where we tailgate. She’ll be right there with us tailgating still.”

Where The Wildflowers Are

Before Hunter passed, she was known for her love of wildflowers and photography- something Danner wanted to make sure was honored in her tailgate celebration of life. Almost 400 packets of wildflower seeds were passed out to those who came to pay their respects to Hunter, with encouragement to spread them joy and love.

“Karon was a photographer, or she was getting into photography,” Danner said. “Her Instagram page, she loved to photograph flowers and so we passed out packets of wild flowers and asked people to spread wild flower joy. We passed out about 400 packets of wildflowers.”

22 Forever

In the week leading up to Hunter’s tailgate memorial, Utah football announced they were expanding the “Moment of Loudness” to also include Ute fans who had recently passed away along with players Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe. Danner admitted it felt too perfect and Hunter’s picture was submitted to be part of the first round of the expanded “Moment of Loudness”.

“It was incredible because we saw that on Twitter and we submitted her name,” Danner said. “I’m hoping she was up and a part of that. It kind of felt like it all came together and it felt like she was a part of it.”

Witnessing the growth of the “Moment of Loudness” and knowing Hunter was a part of something she loved so much has been comforting to Danner and the rest of the tailgaters. Danner noted it finally feels like Utah has that special something that so many schools have that sets them a part and makes their game day so unique.

“One thing we’ve talked a lot about as a tailgating group and fans- there are other stadiums that have like certain songs that they do at certain times and their stadiums seem to rock,” Danner said. “I went to The Swamp and I go to bowl games a lot and it finally actually felt like on Saturday that we have our ‘thing’. That’s our thing now and it feels like it’s for the fans. I mean, obviously it’s for Ty and Aaron still, but I felt it too at gymnastics this season. With their 22’s on their back and flashing their 22’s in their routines and it’s just bled over now into this ‘Moment of Loudness’ that’s been dedicated to fans who have passed. The ‘Family on Three’ with the fireworks at the end- I’m getting chills just talking about it.”

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