When Hilda Grabner first set eyes on little Lark, Utah one February day in 1928, she remembers turning to her husband and saying, “This is the last place God made, and He forgot to finish it.” But the giant Kennecott Copper Corp. has not forgotten. Sometime next year Lark will be only a memory, buried under tons of copper waste from the gaping strip mine on the mountain above.
Lark has not died quietly, however. Shortly after taking possession of the land on which the town is built, Kennecott last December brusquely announced it was not in the housing business and indicated it felt no responsibility for the more than 100 families it would be dispossessing. For dozens of Lark’s elderly residents, the announcement sounded more like a death sentence. Ultimately the company relented and set up a relocation office. But as winter passed into spring, and no compensation was offered, angry townspeople decided to act. That was when they hit on the idea of sending representatives to Kennecott’s annual stockholders’ meeting in New York. Their spokeswoman was Hilda Grabner, 81, a retired schoolteacher.
The appearance of the flinty silver-haired widow startled the stockholders, and so did her eloquent sense of outrage. When a Kennecott shareholder challenged her right to speak on the grounds that she didn’t own stock, Mrs. Grabner was ready for him. “We are stockholders,” she announced tartly. “Stockholders in human lives.” Sensing a public relations disaster, the company quickly regrouped. Within a week Kennecott Chairman Frank R. Milliken visited Lark. The next day, townspeople received their first firm offer of reparations. All residents would be given $1,000 toward the cost of relocating, with an additional $500 if they left town by last week. In addition, Kennecott agreed to move some homes free of charge onto company-owned land in nearby Copperton, Utah and to pay owners of homes to be leveled 120 percent of the appraised value of their property.
When the deadline arrived 35 families were still there, but the corporation has extended its $500 bonus period and has offered assistance to some impoverished residents. “The problem with the townspeople seems to have worked itself out,” says Kennecott spokesman James Petersen. “I think people are quite pleased with the way things turned out.” Indeed, there is little bitterness left in Lark, but there remains a lingering sense of loss. In the epitaph of the town’s other voice, Mrs. Grabner: “Oh God, it was so beautiful when we first came.” And Lark’s residents? “They were cheerful, lovely, good-hearted people.”