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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Irene Leishman is greeted by neighbor and friend Ann Harbertson.

BOUNTIFUL — Things have changed since Irene Leishman was a kid.

Understatement, you say?

When she was born in 1900, William McKinley was campaigning to become America's 25th president. And she's likely to live long enough to see the election of the 44th president. During her lifetime, she's seen the advent of the automobile, airplanes, the computer and the cell phone.

The Internet took shape, and the term "wiki" came into the lexicon.

Pluto was discovered, named and then had its planetary title revoked.

For about one-third of her life, people worried about a Cold War. Now they talk about global warming.

And when she played at Lagoon as a youth, she wasn't hopping on monstrous roller coasters or being catapulted into the air.

She was swimming or roller skating or dancing.

"I've had a good life," Leishman said Friday.

At 108 years old, Leishman, of Bountiful, is the oldest living Utahn. She inherited the title when Rhea Blanche Albiston Briggs Nelson Barnett died at age 109 on Dec. 17, 2007, in Taylorsville.

"What does it get me?" Leishman asks matter-of-factly about the honor.

Sure, there are no prizes for being the oldest, but people pay attention when you're a centenarian. Her birthday was a big deal at the Avalon Care Center, where she is a resident, Friday, from the early morning session in the beauty salon to a full program and a visit from city dignitaries and local church leaders.

But she sat down with a Deseret News reporter between birthday parties Friday to talk about her life and memories.

Leishman, who was born in Rockland, Calif., July 25, 1900, is a granddaughter of Mormon Battalion Capt. James Brown, who commanded C Company, was among the Mormons present when gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California and later was instrumental in founding Ogden.

Brown had a large farm, and Leishman remembers that she and her four siblings used to spend a week at the farm and her grandfather would tease her with snakes.

Leishman's father moved the family to West Ogden to farm, something he loved, but the rest of the family hated.

But it was where a happy childhood was created, Leishman said. A lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she was baptized in the Weber River, which ran across her father's property, in the midst of summer.

Eventually, Leishman's father sold the farm and moved into Ogden, where she remembers dancing to beautiful music at the Berthana on 24th Street.

She worked as a stenographer at Last and Thomas, one of three department stores in Ogden, and also worked as a seamstress for the Eccles and Dee families, who paid well, she said.

Though her life is full of happy memories, she said, it hasn't been roses all the way.

Leishman's only daughter, 87-year-old Marian Grant, with whom Leishman lived for years, died in June, leaving Leishman as the only natural surviving member of her family. The two had shared a room at the Bountiful care center for a time before Marian's death.

"I hated to lose her," Leishman said. "It was terrible."

Grant's two adopted daughters, Jill and Julianne, are Leishman's closest family members.

The condition of the world seems to be worsening, Leishman said.

"There are too many bad people in this world," she said.

Despite that, she says there's no reason to be negative.

"Don't be an old crab because you're 108."

That's coming from a woman whose eyesight and hearing continue to fade and who lives in a care center.

"(Avalon) is the nicest place I've ever been," she said. "I don't think there's a crabby person in the whole building. Everybody here is my friend."

Irene Leishman's thoughts and favorites

Born: July 25, 1900

Favorite food: Chicken or turkey, as long as it's cooked well

Favorite dessert: Lemon meringue pie

Favorite colors: Pink, blue, black ... everything

Favorite book: The Book of Mormon

Quotes:

On the price of gas: Ridiculous. I remember when it was 25 cents a gallon.

On the upcoming election: I think the Republican is the one I'd vote for.

On learning: I've learned everything I wanted to learn.


E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com