OGDEN — Those in the know say the Ogden-Weber Technical College — especially as it functions today, serving a robust 6,000 students annually on its sprawling Northern Ogden campus — wouldn’t exist without Brent Wallis.
The Ogden native began his professional career at what was then Weber State College in 1965. In 1971, he headed the Skills Center North at Weber, teaching technical skills education there.
With Wallis at the helm, the center eventually morphed into Ogden-Weber tech. According to the college’s Marketing Manager Maria Milligan, the school grew from 93 annual students in its early years to more than 6,000, with Wallis serving as the institution’s director, superintendent and president for 37 years. He retired in 2007 and served a stint in the Utah State House of Representatives.
Wallis died earlier this month, after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 80.
Milligan said Wallis was behind the reins as the school moved to several locations across Weber County in its first decade, including the old and dilapidated Ogden Exchange building in West Ogden. According to a 2018 profile on Wallis, which was written by Ogden-area author Rachel Trotter and part of a series of pieces celebrating the history of the West Ogden stockyard, Wallis was known to wake up at 2:30 a.m. on Monday mornings to get a head start and warming up the Exchange Building’s boiler.
Wallis spearheaded the culminating relocation for OWTC, which began in 1984 when ground broke at the college’s current home on Washington Boulevard, just north of 2nd Street. During the early years of the school’s existence, funding was always in question and Wallis worked tirelessly with the Utah State Legislature and other entities to get money for the then-fledgling tech school.
“Given all the challenges the institution faced during the early years of its history, it is unlikely that Ogden-Weber Technical College would be celebrating a 50th anniversary this year without the leadership, vision and innovation of Brent Wallis,” said Jim Taggart, current president of OWTC.
Taggart said Wallis was a trailblazer in technical education, noting that he was among the first in the nation to implement competency-based instruction, which essentially focuses on real-world performance and teaching the things potential employers say they need most in the workforce. Milligan said the innovative approach led the school to become the first technical training institution in the country to receive the prestigious U.S. Secretary of Education Award for Outstanding Vocational Programs. Wallis also implemented an open-enrollment system with an open entry and exit model at OWTC, which allowed students to finish their education on a timeline that was best for them.
Rob Brems, past president of the Utah College of Applied Technology, described Wallis as a “man of vision” and said today’s applied technology education landscape in Utah was heavily influenced by Wallis and his work with the OWTC.
“He really was a pioneer,” Brems said. “And very early on, he understood something a lot of people did not: that a technical education was going to be something that most people are going to need.”
But beyond the professional dynamism, both Brems and Taggart said they’ll remember Wallis much more for the kind of person he was. Taggart was hired at OWTC by Wallis in 1994. The pair forged a close relationship in the years that followed. Taggart says Wallis was always committed to the success of the school’s teachers, students and their families.
“The thing that stands out the most was how he treated people,” Taggart said. “He always took a personal interest in the people … at the tech college. And he had this incredible ability to remember everyone’s name. He’d remember the name of an apprenticeship instructor who teaches two nights a month and Brent hadn’t seen them in two years.”
Wallis was also a devout family man, Taggart said. Wallis married his wife, Gloria, in 1962 and the couple had six children, 21 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. According to his obituary, Wallis an avid reader and collected a large library of books. He was also known to enjoy classical music, playing golf and riding motorcycles.
“He was just a great man who influenced a lot of people,” Taggart said. “He was a great leader because he built other leaders. He’ll be missed.”