Putting Down Roots in Health
PROVO, Utah – Dec 18, 2020 – Each tree has different needs in an orchard. Each member has different needs in a community. Ralph Clegg, executive director of the Utah County Health Department, self-avowed gentleman farmer, and BYU Marriott School of Business EMPA alumni, solves problems in both his garden and his community by understanding diversity.
A native of Orem, Clegg began learning about caring for a garden when he was a child. Because he grew up working in an orchard on his family’s property, he and his two siblings spent a lot of time learning to care for trees. When Clegg graduated from Orem High School in 1973 and began attending BYU, he moved from tending trees to tending to his education. Clegg channeled his love for the environment into his 1979 bachelor’s degree in environmental health science.
After graduation, Clegg grew his love of working with others first for food services in management at BYU and then for the Utah County Health Department, where he worked as an environmental health inspector. However, Clegg wasn’t ready to put down roots in his career. He felt additional experience within the health department would allow him more room to grow.
In order to qualify for advancement, Clegg earned his EMPA from BYU Marriott in 1992. One of the most valuable lessons he learned from his experience in the program was conflict resolution. “How you deal with conflict is probably one of the biggest challenges you face in your career,” says Clegg. “You have to find a way to work your way through it.”
After being promoted to deputy director in the Utah County Health Department, Clegg recognized that the conflict he encountered often came from the vast differences in opinions within the Utah County community. Thanks to his EMPA experience, Clegg knew what to do. “You have to treat people from where they’ve come,” Clegg says. “Respecting others is important, but that doesn’t mean you always agree. You can’t always agree. Just make sure to respect and take note of others’ feelings.”
Just as each tree or plant in a garden has different needs, so does every member of the community. Clegg remembers listening to many community opinions when he worked to address complaints and minimize conflict regarding Utah County’s high carbon monoxide levels in 1986. Because Utah exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, the Federal Clean Air act required Utah to start a Vehicle Emissions Inspection and Maintenance program.
“A lot of unhappy people called me to tell me how they felt,” remembers Clegg. The experience Clegg had in the EMPA program helped him resolve conflict and find solutions that impacted the way Utah County eventually responded to the Clean Air Act.
When faced with the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Clegg says his background in conflict resolution continued to benefit him as he made plans for Utah County’s response. As he worked—and continues to work—to find ways to best address the community's needs, he advocates for the need to treat people with respect and love. He knows that everyone has challenges, especially during the worldwide pandemic. “Hopefully 2021 is better—a good harvest,” says Clegg. After nearly 38 years of service for Utah County, he will be retiring at the end of 2020.
When he is not at work, Clegg returns to his home in Orem to his wife Diane. He still owns a portion of the orchard he worked in as a youth, and he continues to tend to his peach and apple trees—even a corn patch. “Sometimes it’s not a good crop due to weather,” Clegg says. “Just like in growing crops, every year is different. You have adversity at all points in life, but you learn to address it and grow.”
Media Contact: Chad Little: (801) 422-1512
Writer: Rebecca Nissen