Gary Delbert Willden Profile Photo
1946 Gary 2024

Gary Delbert Willden

December 17, 1946 — February 14, 2024

Centerville, UT

Gary Delbert Willden, born in Delta, Utah on December 17, 1946, to Delbert and LaRue Willden, passed away February 14, 2024. He leaves behind a legacy of love for the outdoors, a commitment to education, a profound impact on the lives of those he touched, and an impressive collection of outrageously loud neckties.


As a kid, Gary sported a 1950s crew cut and horn-rimmed glasses like he was born to it. His expressive bass voice made him a natural as the lead (Finian) in his Granger High School musical production of Finian’s Rainbow. His love of vocal performance resulted in his meeting a certain Joan Lambert, as they performed in a stake musical together. He went on to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Central German mission, after which he joined Joan at BYU where they were on the ballroom dance team, and soon married. It was only Joan’s graduation that ended a run that would have culminated in their being the lead couple competing at Blackpool. Gary proudly served his country by joining the US Army National Guard (‘64-’72), eventually becoming a Special Forces Green Beret. He attended Jump School where–despite having walking pneumonia–he refused to wash out and became certified Airborne (how he loved jumping out of planes!). He served for a time in Panama, where he honed his skills and developed a love of adventure.


His passion for the outdoors led him to a fulfilling career as an outdoor recreation professor at Weber State University, where he shared his expertise for 35 years. Gary taught a wide range of courses, including rock climbing, canyoneering, caving, backpacking, hiking, camping, skiing, and first aid. He resurrected the historic “Flaming W Hike” and went on to serve as Chair of the Health, Physical Education, Recreation, & Dance department (‘85-’90). He was a key voice in the Swenson gym expansion, including seeking funding for the “Weber Rocks” climbing wall that students continue to ascend today. One student’s comment about his professorship: “I think he would be a really cool Grandpa.” We agree, anonymous student, except we’d add “awesome, funny, hard-working, mischievous, and delightful.” 


Gary's influence extended beyond the classroom, as he devoted many years to the Boy Scouts of America. He inspired countless youth to embrace the wonders of nature, led untold numbers of hikes, ate an unfortunate number of MREs, slept in an inhuman number of snow trenches, and belayed thousands of “Bernina-knee,” quivering Tenderfoot Scouts as they climbed and rappelled. His generosity with the program knew no bounds, and he was thoughtfully recognized with the prestigious Silver Beaver award. That was a particular joy to him because he hadn’t grown up in a strong Scout troop, and so never earned the Eagle Scout rank–an accomplishment he (in tandem with the ever-persuasive Joan) helped all 6 of his sons attain.


Like many multi-talented people, Gary found an outlet in two fascinating side-hustles. He entertained many children as “Lupo T. Clown”–donning a costume and voice that kept kids giggling as he delivered magic tricks, balloon animals, and groan-worthy puns. As “Dr. Fun,” as he was affectionately known, he traveled the country teaching team-building activities to youth groups, schools, and corporations. He was at the forefront of a movement to bring play back into people’s lives. He was truly a lifelong advocate for embracing the “ludicrous,” in the original sense of the word: relating to play and laughter. He found endless ways to bring play home with him, from leading epic “Boffer” (foam swords) wars around the home, to throwing an apparent granite boulder at his teenage son (it was a realistically painted foam block, but it still scared him witless), to ignoring Joan’s warning and licking his ice cream bowl clean (we had no idea either of them could run that fast as she chased him out the back door for doing so, him giggling like a kid the entire time). 


Indeed, he was a loving father of 7 children (6 sons & 1 daughter), and a playful grandfather to 15. He shared his zest for life with his family by taking them on scores of memorable adventures, including snow skiing, rock climbing, camping, snorkeling, scuba diving and more. He led his family in building a cabin in Utah’s gorgeous Ogden Canyon, a place that is forever redolent with memories and mishaps. 


Like many of his generation he absorbed car culture and loved all travel, and particularly a good road trip. He (in)famously took his new bride on their first trip by unwisely driving their aging Corvair along a precipitous mountain “road” that today would probably be advisable only with a UTV. His love for the outdoors and his fearless embrace of adventure will endure through generations.


He is survived by his devoted wife, Joan, their 7 children and their spouses: Jeff (Carolina), Jeremy (LeRita), Greg (Katie), Matt (Shannon), Mike (Erica), Steve (Whitney), Kelsey (Taylor). His richly blessed 15 grandchildren will fondly remember his warmth and humor. And he will miss his 4 brothers (Phil, Bruce, Randy, Layne). Gary’s legacy lives on in the hearts of those who had the privilege of knowing him. Pop, save us a space in that great campsite in the sky. And please tell us it won’t be in a snow trench. 


Monday, February 19, 2024 - Russon Mortuary at 295 N. Main in Bountiful, Utah

6:00 - 8:00 p.m. - Public Viewing


Tuesday, February 20, 2024 – Brookhurst Ward at 1298 N. 400 W. in Centerville, Utah

9:45 - 10:30 a.m. - Public Viewing

11:00 a.m. - Funeral

Graveside Services at Centerville City Cemetery


In lieu of flowers, go out and make a memory, having an adventure with a loved one.

Funeral services will be broadcast on YouTube:

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Gary Delbert Willden, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services


Monday, February 19, 2024

6:00 - 8:00 pm (Mountain time)

Russon Mortuary & Crematory - Bountiful

295 N. Main St., Bountiful, UT 84010

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

9:45 - 10:30 am (Mountain time)

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Funeral Service

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

11:00am - 12:00 pm (Mountain time)

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


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