Sen. Strom Thurmond was looking back on his 88 active years and found he had some advice for other senior citizens.
"I've formed my own 4-H club," he said. "That's honor, hard work, health and helping others."The Republican from South Carolina is the dean of senators. He has served 36 years and was the first American elected to a major office on a write-in campaign. Thursday, he visited Salt Lake City to address the fourth annual conference for senior citizens, sponsored by his friend and colleague Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"There are a lot of things you can do," Thurmond told the 1,200 senior citizens who attended the conference. "Your wisdom, your judgment and your experience are valuable."
In a time when government agencies like HUD, the savings and loans and the defense department are fraught with fraud, the senator asked his audience to encourage the young people in their lives to be people of honor. "Teach your young: Don't lie, don't cheat and don't steal."
He said hard work is important because it not only builds character, it "keeps 'em busy so they won't get in trouble. We've got to teach 'em to strive for excellence and not mediocrity."
Each American should read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence once a year to learn about the country's founding values, he said. The senator expressed concern for the health of young Americans. He follows a daily regimen of calisthenics for 20 minutes, 10 minutes lifting weights and 20 minutes on a stationary bike. Twice a week he goes swimming.
"They need to stimulate their blood," he quipped. "A lot of people get senile because their blood never gets to their brain. And y'all need to exercise, too.
"We've got to encourage young people especially to avoid alcohol and tobacco. My state grows tobacco, and that helps on the balance of payments, but I won't smoke."
In 1990, the United States spent $660 billion on health care, which is 12 percent of the gross national product. Health-care issues, Thurmond said, concern senior citizens more than anyone else.
"You made this country and we've got to help you as much as we can," he told the senior citizens in the audience, most of whom were younger than he is. "We can't do everything for everyone. But there are some things the government can and ought to do."
The senator's half-hour talk was peppered with personal anecdotes and jokes, as well as a humorous reference to his host, Hatch: "It's remarkable how he keeps his age. In fact, he hasn't changed it for 10 years."