Still Active at 101
Gwen Matthews Richards
Being the “youngest of the oldest” is how Gwen Richards describes her status at The Charleston at Cedar Hills, an assisted living community in Utah. Gwen is “only” 101, while her older friends are 103 and 106.
Gwen grew up in Scipio, Millard County, Utah, with no electricity or central heat. She recalls how suspicious her family was when electricity was brought to their home. They all watched the light bulb hanging from the ceiling and wondered what would happen when they flipped the switch. The light came on–that was that–and they knew they wouldn’t have to carry light from room to room any more.
Gwen’s grandfather operated a hotel in Scipio, a location that was especially convenient for those traveling between Salt Lake City and St. George. He always subscribed to a newspaper and read it aloud to the townspeople. Gwen remembers her grandfather reading about the events of the day–the economy, the depression, the war, and rationing. Reading the paper and keeping up with current events is a habit Gwen continues today.
At age 14 Gwen found room and board in nearby Fillmore so she could attend high school. She returned to Scipio when a bus system was established so she could live at home and still finish school. Gwen always loved school and loved her teachers. She held educators in high regard and knew early on that she wanted to be a teacher. As soon as Gwen had enough credits, she went to Snow College for two years and earned an associate’s degree in teaching. She later attended BYU and graduated in 1940.
Gwen met her husband, Fred (Frosty), a biology teacher, in Heber, Utah where they were both teaching. They were married in 1930. At that time married women were not allowed to teach school, but during World War II women had to take over many jobs once designated for men, including teaching. The Richards family lived in several Utah communities, including Delta, Lehi, and Fillmore before settling in American Fork in 1943.
Gwen taught all the grades in elementary school, but her favorite was the third grade. As a working mother, she involved her family as part of her teaching experience. Two of her children spent time as students in her class. Her husband helped on projects: For example, each year he created a terrarium as one of her interest centers. She enlisted her children to help with her class activities. Gwen’s chosen profession impacted not only her children but also many of her grandchildren. Twelve members of her family and extended family are BYU graduates. Many have followed her example and become teachers, from elementary to college level.
As Gwen talked about the role of a teacher, she said that one of the most important things a teacher does is to set the atmosphere in her class. “It’s a serious matter if a child doesn’t feel he/she has approval. You can degrade or accept the child. Teachers need to help children and make them feel accepted.”
Gwen’s 100th birthday celebration, on July 24, 2010, was attended by over 400 people, most of them her former students. As the students reminisced, they recalled that parents in the neighborhood wanted their children in Gwen’s class. The students remembered her classroom as bright, cheerful, and positive. Many said, “You made us all feel good.” “But,” Gwen added, “I made them work hard. It was a joy to see them learn and grow.” Now after all these years, Gwen still enjoys reading or hearing about her former students. “I just love it. I have a vested interest. I love to talk to them, remember them, and follow what happened to them.”
During her retirement Gwen continues to learn and stays involved with people and projects. She learned to play the organ after retiring, and she has been a mentor to many people in her ward. She loves to write—including journals and histories. She also compiles her favorite quotes in a thick scrapbook. She keeps her mind sharp by memorizing hymns, scriptures, and poetry. Every day she walks up and down the halls at the Charleston for exercise. She keeps a regular daily routine, a habit/mindset that she says saved her when her husband passed away.
Gwen and Fred are the parents of six children, 29 grandchildren, 60 great-grandchildren, and 5 great-great grandchildren; Gwen says that family and church are the glue that holds things together. In her younger old age, she remains a positive light to her family and friends.
3 January, 2012