Surrounded by about two dozen children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, Homer C. Whitlock cried and wiped his eyes Friday as he accepted an award for being the Utahn with the most grandchildren. But the crowd of family who helped him celebrate is only a small handful of Whitlock's grandchildren. The 86-year-old has 143 of them.
"I feel pretty lucky. You can see that they like me," he said, laughing. "Some of them I can't pronounce (their names), but I know them all."
With seven children, 66 grandchildren, 71 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren, Whitlock was named winner of the Legacy Retirement Communities competition, which advertised to senior centers across the state in honor of Grandparents Day on Sunday.
The Draper resident has family all over the nation and keeps in touch with them through e-mail. His children proclaim him a computer-whiz, but while e-mailing over a hundred family members may seem like a daunting task, his biggest project still lies ahead of him — making 143 Christmas presents.
"I love to see them open presents from me for Christmas," he said. When asked what he was going to do to celebrate, Whitlock said, "I have to start on more Christmas presents."
Whitlock has held a variety of jobs throughout his life, including being a farmer and steel worker. But after retiring from a job as a miner, Whitlock picked up rock work. He now hand-makes jewelry for his granddaughters and belt buckles and bowties for his grandsons. Many of the married couples sport ring sets made by Whitlock.
"He's honest and he loves us," said granddaughter Alice Hooser, 27. "You can't tell a lie if you think about Grandpa. We're his special family."
The large family gets together every Christmas and rents a church to fit their growing numbers. When they were smaller, the Whitlocks used to get together frequently, including a Labor Day gathering to celebrate the birthday of his wife, Ruby. Easter called for a traditional Easter egg hunt, and there were family camping trips to Yellowstone and Flaming Gorge. The big family tries to get together regularly because "we're concerned with making sure the grandchildren all know each other because we're so big now."
"That's something he's taught us. To always have close-knit families, stick together and try to help each other out," said Whitlock's daughter Betty. "He's been so good about teaching all of us good, upright principles that any one of us would bend over backward for him."
The avid fisher, hunter and guitar collector was all smiles with his family. They are his greatest accomplishment, he said. He has dozens of stories: catching a 100-pound halibut in Alaska last year, taking a 200-pound deer, hopping trains for trips to California, being compared to Elvis in his youth ("I don't look like him now") and filling his back yard with the rocks he's collected.
"He's very special to me," said great-grandchild Renee Hooser, 9. "I don't like him; I love him."
As part of his win, Whitlock received a $250 shopping spree to his store of choice. He chose Smith's, to buy his favorite foods, like tamales, sardines, macaroni and cheese and fruit juice.