Susan Bearnson Huff grew up in Spanish Fork, Utah (the first permanent Icelandic settlement in North America) surrounded primarily by neighbors of Icelandic descent. She lived next door to her Icelandic grandfather, Gisle Bearnson, who was born in Reykjavik and immigrated with his parents and other relatives when he was three years old. Her grandfather and father were farmers and cattlemen. Her grandfather named each farm they acquired, even though none of the other local farmers had names for their farms. It wasn’t until Susan visited Iceland for the first time in 2012 that she realized her grandfather was following a long-standing Icelandic tradition in naming his farms.
From 1854 to 1910, 410 people - Icelanders who had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Iceland, along with family members - emigrated from Iceland to Utah.
Most of them first came to Spanish Fork, building a strong Icelandic community in the southeast section of town. Since 1897, Icelanders have gathered annually to picnic and celebrate like a large family reunion. Susan loved Iceland Days as a child because it was often the only day her hard-working farmer father would take at least part of a day off just to have fun. The Icelandic Association of Utah sponsors this annual event. Susan became the first woman president of the association in 1986 and served on the board for many years.
Susan grew up with stories about the close-knit Icelandic community in Spanish Fork. Most of the immigrants were poor, but what they had, they shared. Her father told her that as a young boy it was his job to carry buckets of coal from their family’s coal bin to Icelandic widows for cooking and heating homes during the winter months. Icelanders cared for each other’s children when times were hard. After Grandma Bearnson made a pot of soup for her large family, the soup bone was passed on and shared with another Icelandic family. The Bearnson family home was always open to Icelanders visiting Spanish Fork or passing through.
Susan’s love for her Icelandic heritage grew even stronger when she and her husband, Richard Huff, were asked by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to volunteer their time and resources to spend 18 months (March 2016-September 2018) in Iceland as records preservation missionaries, scanning Icelandic documents at The National Archives of Iceland for the Church’s family history and genealogy records. They scanned parish registers, ministerial books, census records, and various court documents - over 500,000 pages - that are now published on the church archives website for anyone to access. It was a fabulous experience living and working in Iceland, meeting family and seeing places where Susan’s family lived.
Susan and Richard have 5 children and 18 grandchildren. Susan has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s and doctorate degrees in educational leadership - all from Brigham Young University. She retired after 34 years as a teacher and elementary school principal, but continues her work as an education consultant, mentoring principals and working with schools to improve student learning.