SOUTH JORDAN — The goal of making a difference can seem lofty, but one 97-year-old proves that it can be done simply, with items found around the house.
A cookie, a banana, a stuffed animal, a smile, a story.
Jim Broadwater starts his morning routine early. After swimming laps at the Sagewood at Daybreak pool, he gets his treats ready to deliver to his friends in other areas of the retirement community.
"I love people and especially the older people," Broadwater said, a twinkle in his eye.
"And the ones in memory care (those with Alzheimer's or other memory problems) they can't, they don't talk. So I've got all of 'em, I give 'em a little smile. Boy, and as soon as I walk in, I get big smiles from all of 'em. If one of them doesn't smile, I go hold her hand and I say, 'You're not smiling.' She looks up and says, 'Yes, I am,'" Broadwater explained Thursday in his home in Sagewood's independent living section.
On the coffee table, a stack of paper copies of a vintage smiling Gerber baby with the word "SMILE!" and a bowl of gummy bears lie in wait for guests. An impressive display of plush stuffed animals lounge across the couch.
"I give one to every child that comes to Sagewood, and now all the ladies want one. I give them one, and they just hug 'em," Broadwater noted.
He says taking care of his wife, with whom he was married for 73 years before she passed away, taught him about helping the elderly.
Broadwater and his wife both grew up in Salt Lake City, on Kensington Avenue, and were childhood friends.
"It was a love affair," Broadwater said.
They had a good life together, with three children and eventually 43 grandchildren, 73 great-grandchildren and one great-great-granddaughter.
During World War II, he served in the Marines and was stationed at Miramar in San Diego. "I was one of the lucky ones, I didn't have to go overseas," Broadwater said.
Later, he worked as a salesman for different companies and found great success because he knew "you have to make friends first. That's the secret of a salesman. You don't really just beg for something. Make friends, then it just comes to you."
"And I was quite a manipulator, too," he quipped, pointing at a bronze Native American chief sculpture, which he says he was able to buy for far under its estimate using his skills of persuasion.
When his wife fell ill, "I promised her she'd never go into a retirement home," Broadwater said.
She passed away three years ago, he said, and despite her age "she had not had one wrinkle."
"She used Revlon's Eterna 27 and Walgreen had an exclusive on it. Nobody else could have it. So every November, they had $50 jars on for $25. I went to all four Walgreen, bought every one they had. At one time, I had 36 jars. She said, 'Don't run out, don't run out.' She was always worried I'd run out. But I never ran out," Broadwater recalled.
When asked if he uses the cream, too, because he doesn't look a day over 75, he said, "I use her cream, but it doesn't work."
Every morning, Broadwater gets up at 4:30, goes to the swimming pool at 5, swims for about 45 minutes, and returns to his home.
"And then I get my cookies ready and my bananas ready, and then I deliver at 8 o'clock," he explains. "Because I love people. The Lord tells me what to do."
Though he is clearly more active than many people younger than him, Broadwater attributes his good health and independence to the help of "vitamins."
Make a round through the retirement center with Broadwater, and everyone passing, from workers to fellow residents, will say, "Hi, Jim."
Men sitting in the dining table will motion for him to sit down and ask, "Are you going to eat?"Comment on this story
"It's always nice to have somebody that smiles at you. And he does a lot for people here in memory care and the assisted living. … He's great," said Bobbi Young, another resident.
"He's just a great friend," Jean Nolan, also a resident, said.
The key to his sunny disposition, according to Broadwater, is "just be fair, be honest, and be nice."
And when he makes his morning rounds, "It makes me feel better, and it makes them feel better. And I get more out of it than they do, I know. But I have to love all of them."
Contributing: Spenser Heaps