Surrogate ‘big brother’ Al Sprouse has employed five sisters a total of well over a centuryMar 31, 2023 01:52PM ● By Carl Fauver
Al Sprouse (2nd from left), has owned Durfey’s Dry Cleaners on the west edge of Taylorsville more than half a century. Along the way, he’s employed several members of the same family, including five out of six sisters. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)
His legions of former little league and high school football players like to call their ex-coach “The Big Man.” But five sisters prefer “The Big Brother we never had.” Either way, Al Sprouse, 81, is approaching retirement with more fans than he ever had years ago while playing football for BYU.
“Al’s the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back.”
“He’s very caring, very understanding – willing to do anything to help you out.”
“Al’s devoted; he watches out for us. He’s a good person and a good boss. If he wasn’t, I would not have been here this many years.”
Those are just some of the things Sprouse’s “surrogate younger sisters” have to say about the owner of Durfey’s Dry Cleaners, out on the far west edge of Taylorsville, bordering the Kearns Township (5455 S. 4015 West). The first of the five sisters he hired came on board more than a half-century ago in 1972. Except for a brief break, she’s been there ever since.
We’ll come back to that first hire, Ruth, in a moment. To better understand Sprouse, you really need to dig a decade further – back to when fresh-faced President John F. Kennedy was in the White House and no one had ever heard of The Beatles outside Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany.
“I grew up in Virginia and graduated high school in 1962,” Sprouse begins his story. “I began dating Carolyn when we were in ninth grade. We were married 57 years before she passed away in 2020. I had no ties to Utah – but moved out here to play football at BYU.”
Al first attended then-Ricks College in Rexburg to get his grades up for a year and to play freshman football. After that, he was a BYU Cougar while storied coach LaVell Edwards was still an assistant in the program.
Rather than completing his college degree, Sprouse went out to find work in the late 1960s. To that point in his life, he had no idea he would end up in the dry-cleaning business. That just happened to be one of the doors he pulled, back when people wore out shoes, rather than computer mouses, looking for work.
“There were five Durfey’s Dry Cleaners back then, including the first one I entered in American Fork,” Sprouse explained. “They hired me as a driver, but out of their Kearns store – the one I own now. I worked for Haws Durfey for a couple of years… Carolyn and I moved up to Kearns from Utah County in 1969… and I purchased the cleaners in 1971.”
Which brings us back to Ruth – one of five Leivick sisters Sprouse has employed. She was actually the very first employee he ever hired – and still works fulltime at Durfey’s today.
None of the six Leivick sisters still go by that last name. They range in age now from 76 (Ruth Hodges) to 65 (Judy, the only Leivick sister who’s never worked for Sprouse). The four in between are Susan Didas (she works very little at the cleaners now), Diana Bird (manager for the past 35 years), Nancy Beagley and Arla Guild (each now parttime, normally only called in for “emergencies”).
“We were always looking for good, dependable employees when we first started out,” Sprouse continued. “Ruth came in 1972 and we hired her on the spot. Later, when someone would leave, Ruth would suggest one of her sisters for a job. Then another, and another. All the Leivick sisters were and are great employees. They had learned to press clothing at home. You have to give their mother so much credit. She raised such loyal, hard workers.”
“My husband was out on strike (at Kennecott Utah Copper) in 1972 and we needed money,” Hodges added. “Al hired me the day I walked in. I left for just a few months soon after that. But I have been mostly fulltime here since 1973.”
The strong bond between Sprouse and the Leivick sisters started early and has only grown over the past half century. The list of things Sprouse has done for them – over and above what a boss normally does for employees – is staggering, including:
- Purchasing a trailer for one of the sisters
- Buying parts for a broken washing machine
- Helping install a new roof and siding at one of their homes
- Fixing a water heater at another house
- Plowing their driveways with the blade on his truck
- Giving them generous Christmas bonuses, whether they were full or parttime
In other words, Sprouse has played the role of loving “big brother” to one Leivick sister or another since Richard Nixon was recording conversations in the Oval Office.
In addition to the relationships he’s built with the sisters, Sprouse also formed strong bonds with the Ute Conference youth football players he coached for some 20 years. In his earliest years volunteering in the league, Sprouse coached Dean Paynter for two seasons.
Fifty years later, Paynter is now a member of the Taylorsville Citizen Advisory Board, the five-member panel that meets monthly to review high-speed chases and uses of force involving city police officers. He’s also just been named chairman of a community council now being reestablished in his neighborhood.
“Al was such a beloved little league coach,” Paynter said. “All of his players called him the ‘Big Man.’ In the fall of my Kearns High School senior year (1972) we won the state football title. Al was not an official coach then – but he did come to our games. He coached so many of us in youth football that we ran to him for advice when we came off the field.”
Sprouse says it was no accident Dean Paynter ended up on his little league football team.
“Back in those days I was still driving our dry-cleaning pick-up and delivery truck all around Kearns,” Sprouse explained. “When I saw big boys or fast boys out playing, I recruited them. I’d ask if they’ve ever played little league football or would like to. Of all the boys on that 1972 Kearns High School championship team, I had coached all of them but six on my Ute Conference teams.”
Sprouse says Paynter was one of the best players he ever coached – a varsity starter at KHS and an All-State offensive and defensive tackle two years running. Like Sprouse, Paynter went on to play at BYU.
“Everyone in high school called Dean ‘Duck,’” Sprouse said. “I gave him that nickname because when I recruited him, Dean was wearing an Oregon Ducks T-shirt.”
Uh… thanks, Coach?
After his 20 years of Ute Conference coaching, eventually Sprouse was hired as an assistant coach at Kearns High. He was in that role when the Kearns Cougars won a second state football title in 1989.
In addition to the five sisters who still work, at least once in a while, at Durfey’s Dry Cleaners, there’s a next generation coming through.
Manager Bird’s niece, Dorothy Carlisle, has worked there 11 years in two different stints. Another Dorothy – Diana’s daughter, Dorothy Bird – worked there years ago. And Guild’s son, Bill Hensley, is now full time there as the chief repairman for all the cleaning equipment. He’s also talking with Sprouse about purchasing the business someday.
“I promised the girls I would keep operating the business as long as any of them needed a job,” Sprouse concluded. “I also like the idea of selling it to Bill to keep it in the family. I don’t think he’s ready yet. There’s a lot to running a business he still needs to learn. But I’m working with him and we’re talking about it.”
“Al is a real good boss who cares so much about his employees,” Hensley said. “That’s why most of those who work here stay for so many years. That’s the kind of boss I want to be. Sometimes Al acts like he wants to sell NOW. But he never sells anything; so we’ll see.”
Whenever he does finally choose to leave Durfey’s Dry Cleaners for good, Sprouse will leave behind a handful of surrogate sisters whose lives he has improved for decades. And beyond them, some 20 years’ worth of Ute Conference football players also still hold a warm place in their heart for “The Big Man.”