Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
CEDAR HILLS — Virginia Lewis said she heard rumors that her grandchildren were planning a party. Even if she doesn't think it's an accomplishment, they think reaching 106 is cause for celebration.
The family's popular "Aunt Virginia" is now the oldest living direct descendant of Utah pioneers and the oldest native Utahn, say her family members. Until just four months ago, she was still living in her Draper home. But with failing eyesight, she now resides in the Charleston Assisted Living Community in Cedar Hills.
This was a day of reminiscing, remembering her ancestors.
Absalom Smith helped settle what is now Draper and became an early LDS Church leader there. Perry Fitzgerald crossed the Plains as a wagon master and raised the flag on Ensign Peak. They are her grandfathers.
"I remember my Grandmother Fitzgerald. She crossed the Plains, in need of food and water. But she said it was not sorrow and suffering. She said, 'We danced at night, we sang, we had very pleasant evenings together.' She was a very petite, little lady and had extra curly hair."
Virginia Smith met Rulon Lewis at BYU. Friends introduced them and they used to meet in the library and socialized there. "Today, young people study there," she said.
They married on Sept. 9, 1929. He was an agronomist, working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture under Ezra Taft Benson. They lived throughout the U.S. and overseas in Kenya and Thailand. He worked to increase food production by improving the soil. Virginia served in many church positions wherever she lived and became the first stake Relief Society president in Thailand.
She became very close to her husband's secretary in Thailand, Suparin Pornprapurnt. She later visited Virginia in Utah. They still correspond.
"She always called me her American Mama and I used to smile at that. She was a very sweet girl."
Virginia lost her husband in his early 50s to a heart attack and their only son when his heart stopped suddenly in his 40s.
Her faith and her grandchildren and their accomplishments have sustained her, she says.
And despite her travels and the beautiful sites she has seen living across the country and around the world, Virginia feels best at home in Utah. She remembers the wonderful times with six older sisters and three older brothers on the farm.
"There is no place, there really is no place like home."
As for advice, Virgina has plenty.
"Eat healthy food. I was raised on a farm and ate the very best of healthy food. And your attitude has a great deal to do with it. Have a good attitude toward your life and make the best of each day and everything seems to work out OK."
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