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‘There is so much wisdom in this room': Utah celebrates 130 centenarians

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Weldon Heaton, 101, chats with Gov. Spencer Cox at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

Weldon Heaton, 101, chats with Gov. Spencer Cox at the 34th annual Centenarian Celebration at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The year Salt Lake City native James Broadwater was born, President Warren G. Harding installed the first radio in the White House, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated, work began on the original Yankee Stadium and the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

That was 1922. On April 12 of this year, Broadwater rang in his 100th birthday with a surprise party attended by 55 of his children and grandchildren. His advice to younger generations?

"Exercise every day and eat properly," said Broadwater, a World War II veteran and former Marine. That guidance is something he implemented in his own life. In fact, he played three hours of tennis every day for 30 years.

James William Broadwater Jr., 100, chats with his daughter, Jan Smith, at the 34th annual Centenarian Celebration at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan on Thursday.

James William Broadwater Jr., 100, chats with his daughter, Jan Smith, at the 34th annual Centenarian Celebration at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan on Thursday.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Broadwater is one of 130 members of the Governor's Century Club, 99 of whom are turning 100 this year. On Thursday, the state held its first annual centenarian celebration since 2019 to honor Utahns who have reached their 100th birthday and beyond.

Gov. Spencer Cox stressed during the celebration in West Jordan the importance of connecting across generations.

"We need our elderly parents and grandparents and great-grandparents to connect with us. That's important for mental health, and it's important for community. I believe it's important for the survival of our country," Cox said. "There is so much wisdom in this room."

Lula Henry, who turned 100 last October, has a bit of her own wisdom to pass on: "Mind your business and trust in God."

Henry is originally from Greenwood, Mississippi, where she married soldier George Henry at 19.

"Somebody asked me, 'How did you get married so young?' I said, 'My husband taught me how to elope,'" Henry said. "He promised me, 'If you marry me, I'll get you through college and I promise you that I'll be a good husband.' And he did."

Lula Lee Harley Henry, 101, attends the 34th annual centenarian celebration at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan on Thursday. “Mind you own business, it helps you sleep better. Trust only in God,” are Henry’s words of advice.

Lula Lee Harley Henry, 101, attends the 34th annual centenarian celebration at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan on Thursday. “Mind you own business, it helps you sleep better. Trust only in God,” are Henry’s words of advice.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The couple moved to Utah in 1946 after George was honorably discharged and Henry's sister encouraged her to come to the state to get a better education. She would eventually graduate from the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education and become the director of Christian education at the Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City.

Henry and her husband were escaping Jim Crow segregation in the South by moving to Utah, becoming part of the Great Migration during which 6 million African Americans left the rural South. She's since fallen in love with Utah.

"I love the scenery and I love the mountains," Henry said. "When I go places and there are no mountains I feel lost."

Telesila Castro, who turns 108 on Aug. 18, is another Utah transplant. Originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador, Castro moved to the U.S. 21 years ago with her siblings and daughters. Although the move wasn't too difficult, becoming a U.S. citizen and reaching 100 wasn't something Castro ever expected.

Telesila Castro, 107, is kissed by her daughters, Thalia Castro, left, and Mercy Viteri, at the 34th annual Centenarian Celebration at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan on Thursday.

Telesila Castro, 107, is kissed by her daughters, Thalia Castro, left, and Mercy Viteri, at the 34th annual Centenarian Celebration at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan on Thursday.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Growing up in Ecuador, Castro said her parents were strict and protective.

"We would receive serenades and letters hidden in books so no one in the house would know," Castro wrote in a yearbook featuring Utah's centenarians. She and her oldest sister learned to be seamstresses during a time when the family lived on a small farm with orange trees, cane sugar, rice, beans and a variety of fruit.

Today she sees the U.S as her country and is happy to see her 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren working and studying to reach their goals. Her counsel for young people is "that they take great care of themselves, that they eat well and be obedient to their parents," Castro said in Spanish, surrounded by her four daughters and two granddaughters.