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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and his wife, Mary Kaye, talk with 108-year-old Irene Leishman during the Annual Cenetarian Celebration.

Utahns whose personal history stretches back to the administration of President Teddy Roosevelt shared their memories Friday of the ever-changing world they've navigated.

During a celebration for Utahns aged 100 years and older, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the centenarians are "state treasures" who have watched technology's advance, exhilarated or exasperated by its speed.

The centenarians and guests filled tables in the Capitol rotunda and chatted as Huntsman, his wife, Mary Kaye, and Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert made the rounds, greeting each one. Many stayed beyond the lunch to tour areas of the newly refurbished Capitol.

One partygoer, Bently Christy, 100, recalled a time when the maximum speed limit was 10 mph.

"He told me how to drive," said Whitney England, recreational therapist at Mountain View Health Services, who accompanied him. "He said, 'Slow down, we're not in a hurry."'

Other local centenarians had braved gender and racial discrimination.

Lillian Draper, 102, was the oldest child of Swedish immigrants. Marge Conder, Draper's daughter and former curator of the Museum of Church History and Art, noted the once-prevalent belief that "a woman could not study without wearing out her brain." Draper, the first in her family to go to high school, wanted to go to college. Her mother cried, worrying about Draper's brain.

Nevertheless, Draper earned her bachelor's degree and teaching certificate. She was among the first group of teachers in Utah to be certified in special education. Her teaching would later sustain her during the Great Depression. Draper's three children are far beyond the old notions, each obtaining higher education: a son with a Ph.D., a daughter with a master's, and a son with a bachelor's.

Allan Jackson, 105, served in World War II with an all-black unit in the Pacific, fueling bombers, fighters and other aircraft before takeoff. The familial connections he made among his squad soothed the challenge of being away from home. He was transferred to different areas in India, including Mumbai and Calcutta, appreciating his surroundings, the people, cultures and languages.

"The people were beautiful," Jackson said. "They didn't see my color."

That would all change when he came back to the States and was stationed at Camp Kearns in Utah. By then, he was in the military police. He recalled how some local hotels and restaurants had signs that read, "No Blacks Allowed."

"I was given an exception," Jackson said. "They saw my .45 revolver on my hip."

Jackson said it was not easy living through segregation, a system contrary to his inclination to socialize with all types of people. His father's advice helped him endure the socials ills of his time.

"My dad would say, 'Regardless of what people call you, don't pay no attention,"' Jackson said.

Taking his father's advice, Jackson continued to befriend people and eventually saw changes. Camp Kearns, he said, provided locals an opportunity to shake hands with diverse people.

"Now, the younger generation don't see color," Jackson said. "They see friendship."

The centenarians are the benefactors to everyone, Huntsman said, enriching everyone with their experience.


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