They saw the horse and buggy give way to the car, and they witnessed the invention of such modern-day staples as television and stereo. They remember Prohibition with clarity and talk about the day man reached for the sky with an airplane, then conquered outer space in rocket ships.
Thirteen strong, they gathered at the Governor's Mansion to be honored for their greatest accomplishment: Living to be 100 years old. From the oldest - Cuca Gallardo and Bessie Morris, both 104 - to the "youngsters" - the new centenarians - they represent not only Utah's past, but also its future. The over-85 age group is expected to be the fastest growing into the year 2000.Gov. Norm Bangerter and his wife, Colleen, hosted a reception for the 13, who ate fruit salad, reminisced with family members and reporters and renewed old acquaintances. Utah ushered 27 centenarians into its Century Club this year, but most of those in attendance are old hands at the celebration - they'd been there before.
Attending were the two who are 104; two 103-year-olds, Harry Goule, who showed up with five generations of family, and Effie B. Richards; and 101-year-olds Sylvia Hatch Barlow, William Clark, Nettie Pearce, Naomi Young Schletter, Mary Smith, William Wale and Esther Wallace. The 100-year-old "youngsters" were Edith Beless and Martha Bohe.
Wale was born in Utah, moved away, then returned 51 years ago. He thinks he has lived so long because he never smoked or drank alcohol. Besides, he said, "my mother was 103 when she died, so I suppose I'll make a couple more of these parties." The retired railroad foreman recently gave up gardening because "I was starting to feel a little old." But age hasn't kept him from being independent, and he lives alone, cooks for himself and makes his own bed."
Pearce attended with her roommate - her 91-year-old sister Jennie Sorensen. "Their mother," Pearce's nephew Rodney Sorensen boasted, "was the first white baby born in the Bear Lake Valley - so they're real pioneer stock. Their grandparents were sent by Brigham Young to settle the valley."
Barlow laughed when she was asked how she got to be so old: "I can't even guess. You know, of four girls and one boy, I was my mother's only sickly child." Her nephew said she hasn't lost any of her wit and dearly loves to watch the Utah Jazz.
Richards taught a class until she was 87 and moved in with her daughter only after she broke her leg at age 98. The accomplishment of which she is most proud is her posterity. Family members quickly calculated that she has 14 grandchildren, 41 great-grandchildren and 39 "great-greats." All four of her daughters are alive.
Smith always lived in Utah and still manages to take care of herself. Most of her time now is spent "rolling from room to room" - she's been confined to a wheelchair for a few years - and talking on the phone. But she recently took time out to fly, by herself, from Bozeman, Mont., where she had been visiting a son, to Salt Lake.
It was hard to talk to everyone, but those the Deseret News visited with had much in common: A number of them, like Wale and Barlow, live alone and take care of themselves. Only Wale expected to live to be 100. And every one promised to meet me in the same place next year for an update.