CEDAR CITY — Even at 107 years old, Grace Simkins still loves a good riddle.
"What stays in a corner but travels all over the world?" she asked, her voice filled with spirit and playful humor. After a pause came the answer, followed by a chorus of laughter from Simkins and members of her family.
"It's a postage stamp."
Laughter and love of family are two of the main reasons Simkins believes she has lived to see her 107th birthday, a milestone she reached on Nov. 4. The happy event was celebrated with her large family, which currently includes five children, 18 grandchildren, 49 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren.
"We had a crowd and made it fun," Simkins said. "The best part was having the family there. It's always more fun with the family."
A few days later, Simkins, her eyesight and hearing fading, but still as vibrant and pleasant as ever, agreed to an interview with the Deseret News. Seated in her wheelchair and surrounded by some of her children and their spouses at the Kolob Regional Care and Rehabilitation facility, one of the oldest women in the United States smiled often as she recounted some experiences and revealed a few insights into her extended, interesting life.
Grace Magdelene Bishop Simkins was born in 1908 in Hinckley, Millard County.
In her life history, which she wrote at age 95, Simkins shares how her baptism to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was in her family's bathtub in 1917 when she was 9 years old.
In her LDS patriarchal blessing, received in 1926, it reads: "I pray that your days may be many; and your years lengthened until your body will become a well-ripened sheath, ready to be gathered in."
Simkins grew up in a large family and went on to study at Brigham Young University where she earned a teaching certificate.
"I always wanted to be a teacher," she said.
While at BYU, she met Philo T. Farnsworth, an inventor and a pioneer of television.
She married Joseph Vergene Simkins in 1930, and together, they raised a family on a farm in Cedar City.
More than two decades later, when Grace Simkins was in her early 50s, her husband was involved in a car accident and was unable to work. It had been 30 years since she attended school, but Simkins felt prompted to renew her teaching certificate at the College of Southern Utah (now Southern Utah University).
"I didn't just want to be a farmer's wife," Simkins said.
In 1960, Simkins received an offer to teach in Las Vegas. During this time, she also worked toward a master's degree. Simkins taught in Las Vegas until she retired in 1975, then the couple moved to Sandy to be closer to family.
Over the years, Simkins has traveled extensively, including trips to Europe and across the United States. She often kept detailed travelogues of her journeys.
Hobbies and interests? Simkins is an avid Utah Jazz fan, especially during the Karl Malone and John Stockton era. Her favorite movie is "Gone With the Wind." She has always found pleasure in good music, reading books and writing poetry.
Of course, Simkins' body has needed a few repairs over the years, her son Michael Simkins said. Grace Simkins had both knees replaced in her 70s and endured heart bypass surgery in her mid-80s.
Joseph Vergene Simkins died in 1993 at age 97. Grace Simkins continued to walk on a treadmill daily and live independently until she was 103.
At age 106, she accepted the ice bucket challenge.
To put her life in perspective, Simkins can recall when oil lamps were replaced by electric lights and when traveling by horse and buggy transformed into riding in cars and airplanes. She can remember when Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean and when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Simkins lived through World War I and the Great Depression, witnessed the development of computers and is constantly amazed at the brilliance of modern technology.
"We feel blessed every time we come spend time with her," said her son Gary Simkins.
Secrets of life
Did Grace Simkins ever imagine she would live to age 107?
“My goodness, no! I am amazed," she said. "I don’t know why I am so old and still living.”
First, she attributes her longevity to maintaining a positive attitude, having fun and laughing.
"I don’t have a very good laugh, but I like to laugh," Simkins said. "You want to laugh as long and hard as you can, when you can."
For a good diet, she suggested less sugar and desserts, with the occasional exception of a delicious apple pie. She recommends eating more wholesome garden vegetables.
Simkins is also a strong advocate of the Word of Wisdom, the Mormon health code in Doctrine and Covenants 89 that counsels Latter-day Saints to avoid coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol, among other things.
Thanks to the example and influence of their mother and grandmother, there are many schoolteachers and musicians in the family, Michael Simkins said. Grace Simkins is a champion of education and achieving goals, he said.
"If you want to get anywhere in this world, you'd better make sure you have a good education these days," Grace Simkins has told her family. "You have to work for everything that’s worth anything. Things aren’t just handed out to you."
Michael Simkins' wife, Shanna, was impressed when Grace went back to school in her 50s.
"She has often said, 'If you have a dream, be determined and go for it. Shoot for the stars, you might end up on the moon,'" Shanna Simkins said. "'Don't expect anyone to give it to you. No handouts, you earn it yourself.'"
Grace Simkins' children and their spouses expressed gratitude, especially during this Thanksgiving season, for her example and positive influence in their lives.
"She has never wavered in what she would sacrifice for the family," said her daughter Jeannie Boggess. "That's her life, and I think that has been what has kept her alive all these years because the family still shows love, consideration and care for her. That’s what she did for us."
Most appreciated has been her example of faith in living the gospel of Jesus Christ and serving others. She rarely missed church on Sunday as the children were growing up, and has served in many callings throughout her life.
Grace Simkins would like to be around long enough to at least see the Cedar City Utah Temple completed. Her family believes she will continue to live as long as she wants to live.
"That's how strong her will to live is," Boggess said.
With her family nearby, anything is possible, Grace Simkins said.
"I enjoy my family. They are a lovely family, very special to me," she said. "They have tried hard to reach the stars and have had success, so I think their hearts are in the right place. It makes me very happy."
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