‘There’s so much wisdom in this room’: Utah celebrates 130 centenarians

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The year Salt Lake City native James Broadwater was born, President Warren G. Harding installed the first radio in the White House, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated, work began on the first Yankee Stadium, and the ‘Ottoman Empire collapsed.

That was in 1922. On April 12 of that year, Broadwater celebrated its 100th birthday with a surprise party attended by 55 of its children and grandchildren. His advice to younger generations?

“Exercise every day and eat right,” said Broadwater, a World War II veteran and former Marine. This orientation is something he implemented in his own life. In fact, he played three hours of tennis every day for 30 years.

James William Broadwater Jr., 100, chats with his daughter, Jan Smith, during the 34th annual centennial celebration at the Viridian Event Center in western Jordan on Thursday.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Broadwater is one of 130 members of the Governor’s Century Club, 99 of whom will turn 100 this year. On Thursday, the state held its first annual centennial celebration since 2019 to honor Utahns who have reached their 100th birthday and beyond.

Governor Spencer Cox stressed at the celebration in western Jordan the importance of connecting across generations.

“We need our elderly parents, grandparents and great-grandparents to connect with us. It’s important for mental health and it’s important for the community. I think it’s important for survival of our country,” Cox said. “There is so much wisdom in this piece.”

Lula Henry, who turned 100 last October, has some of her own wisdom to impart: “Mind your own business and trust God.

Henry is from Greenwood, Mississippi, where she married Private George Henry at age 19.

“Someone asked me, ‘How did you get married so young?’ I said, ‘My husband taught me to run away,'” Henry said. “He promised me, ‘If you marry me, I’ll put you through college and I promise you I’ll be a good husband.’ And he did.”

Lula Lee Harley Henry, 101, attends the 34th annual centenary celebration at the Viridian Event Center in western Jordan on Thursday.  “Mind your own business, it helps you sleep better.  Trust only God,” are Henry's advice.

Lula Lee Harley Henry, 101, attends the 34th annual centenary celebration at the Viridian Event Center in western Jordan on Thursday. “Mind your own business, it helps you sleep better. Trust only God,” are Henry’s advice.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The couple moved to Utah in 1946 after George was honorably discharged and Henry’s sister encouraged her to come to the state for a better education. She would eventually graduate from the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education and become director of Christian education at Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City.

Henry and her husband were escaping Jim Crow segregation in the South by moving to Utah, part of the Great Migration in which 6 million African Americans left the rural South. She has since fallen in love with Utah.

“I love the landscape and I love the mountains,” Henry said. “When I go to places and there are no mountains, I feel lost.”

Telesila Castro, who turns 108 on August 18, is another Utah transplant. Originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador, Castro moved to the United States 21 years ago with his siblings and daughters. Although the move wasn’t too difficult, becoming an American citizen and reaching 100 was not something Castro expected.

Telesila Castro, 107, is hugged by her daughters, Thalia Castro, left, and Mercy Viteri, during the 34th annual centenary celebration at the Viridian Event Center in western Jordan on Thursday.

Telesila Castro, 107, is hugged by her daughters, Thalia Castro, left, and Mercy Viteri, during the 34th annual centenary celebration at the Viridian Event Center in western Jordan on Thursday.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Growing up in Ecuador, Castro said his parents were strict and protective.

“We were getting serenades and letters hidden in books so no one in the house would know,” Castro wrote in a yearbook featuring Utah centenarians. She and her older sister learned to be seamstresses at a time when the family lived on a small farm with orange trees, cane sugar, rice, beans and a variety of fruits.

Today, she calls the United States home and is happy to see her 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren working and studying to achieve their goals. Her advice to young people is “take great care of themselves, eat well and obey their parents,” Castro said in Spanish, surrounded by her four daughters and two granddaughters.

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