For all of time mankind has been searching for the fountain of youth; looking for that secret that will help them stay young and active despite their age.
Four women in the Tooele Valley may have found at least a piece of that secret. All four women are young and spry despite being in their mid-70s to early-80s. At least one thing all these ladies have in common is they are all members of the Tooele County Master Gardeners.
Barbara Barlow has been taking Master Gardener classes since the mid-1990s. Her initial interest had to do with a property her family had owned since 1863. Her great-grandfather and his two sons built a log cabin, which still stands at the south end of Tooele High School.
“Originally my great-grandfather owned all the property where the [Tooele High] is,” said Barlow. “I was embarrassed to own this property and have it look like it did against the school property.”
The home of her great-grandfather, George Speirs, then became the home of her grandparents, her mother and then herself. Eventually converted into a rental, tenants left it a big mess. She told her husband she wanted to convert the property to a park.
“I told my husband if we made a park up there, I wouldn’t have to be ashamed to own it,” said Barlow.
She started cleaning up and landscaping in 1996. Not really knowing how to plant based on light and water needs, she eventually realized it would be good to know, so she started taking classes with the Master Gardeners. She has been taking classes with the Master Gardeners ever since.
The park, dedicated as Speirs Farm in August of 1997 by Elder Lorren Dunn of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, became a project that never seems to end.
“When we did this I had no idea what it would become or the work that would be involved in it,” said Barlow.
She said a lot of people were involved and helped initially in creating Speirs Farm. For those who know Barlow, it is the hours and hours of work she puts into it every year that has made it what it is today.
Three years after the park was dedicated, Barlow went to Snow College to take a log cabin restoration class. She said it took 3 1/2 years to restore the log cabin on the property, where she now lives. She pointed out it took that long because of all the work that was continually going on with the park.
Eventually she converted the tool shed out back into a lovely cottage with a kitchen, brides room, bathroom and great room, and in order to help keep up with the cost of the property, she rents out the park for weddings, family reunions and other gatherings.
“I’ve never made money off of it,” she said. “It costs me more than I ever take in. It’s a labor of love.”
Along with her continual work on Speirs Farm Park, Barlow also serves in her church, has gone on a number of missions, and is a member of several groups, including the Quilt Guild, the Historical Society and the Senior Circle. She also has traveled the world with some of the friends she made in the Tooele County Master Gardeners.
When asked about her quality of life and what keeps her young, Barlow said, “Taking care of this park is what keeps me healthy and active. If I didn’t have all this physical work to do every day, I don’t know what I would do.”
“I have a good quality of life because I’m involved,” she added. “I’m involved in learning, physical work, I do lots of reading, I study and I’m taking classes continually.”
When asked what she finds most satisfying about the life she has lived Barlow said, “reflecting on all of my grandkids and great-grandkids and they’re all so fond of this park and what I’ve done. They’re proud we are keeping this heritage alive. I think that is one of the things I’m most proud of. This park is a real legacy.”
Mae Freestone said she became a Master Gardener in the late 1990s.
“At the time I had a big yard and I was getting ready to retire,” she said.
Seeing an advertisement in the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin she decided to take the class to help her know what to do with her yard. Taking classes in the Tooele County Master Gardeners has kept her going as she continues to be a part of the organization.
“I’ve made a lot of good friends, some of my best friends,” said Freestone. “It’s given me more incentive to get out. I have done things I probably would never have done, like being president (of the Master Gardeners) for a year. It has helped me grow and be more outgoing.
Also involved in the community, Freestone is a member of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, The Friends of the Library, and has helped at the polling booths for a number of years during election season.
Besides volunteering, she has kept physically active by going to aerobics, walking, working out at the gym and now by going to the Senior Center exercise program three times a week. Of course she also spends time outdoors working on her yard.
Other than a recurring back problem, Freestone said she has had a good quality of life. She said the harder part of getting older has been learning to slow down and to stop hurrying about.
“I’m trying to be more like my dad than my mother,” she said. “Dad took things slowly. When you rush too much when you get older, you have a tendency to fall and hurt yourself”
The upside of aging for Freestone has been less worry.
“Not having to worry about money or kids. My kids are very self-sufficient,” she said. “I don’t have to take care of anybody but me, and I can go and come as I please.”
“I can talk to myself,” she said with a laugh. “I’m always right because no one is around to tell me I’m wrong.”
Pat Jessie first took the Master Gardeners class in 1997 when Larry Sagers started holding classes in Tooele.
Having moved out to Stansbury in 1995, she and her husband Peter Driscoll originally hailed from Massachusetts. Buying a house the next year, they were faced with an empty backyard that needed filling.
As she took the classes from Sagers, her backyard became like a painter’s canvas.
“Our yard was a progression of what I was learning while taking the Master Gardeners,” Jessie said in her Northeastern accent. “In particular, when Larry was teaching about rooms, we had progressed so far we could see rooms. I thought that was interesting, in that respect, calling the different areas rooms.”
As her yard has continued to progress over the years, she has also put her award-winning fine arts photography skills to use.
“I have thousands and thousands of pictures from my yard,” she said.
Initially working as a substitute teacher with at-risk children and students with disabilities, she eventually started helping her husband run their construction company. Despite being a co-business owner, Jessie also found time to volunteer at Red Butte Gardens for 15 years.
Jessie currently is a Change Leader with the Utah Arts and Museums Community and Development and a member of two Stansbury Art and Literary Societies.
She has also kept up with technology, currently responsible for the Facebook pages of both the Tooele County Master Gardeners and the literary societies.
She attributes her good health and wellness to how she eats and physical exercise.
“I don’t eat processed foods,” she said. “I stay away from chemicals.”
Gardening is also one of her secrets.
“Working in nature, there is just something about that that extends your life,” said Jessie. “It has an effect on your longevity. You have your ups and downs. Communing with nature has a lot to do with [quality of life].”
Besides time spent outdoors, Jessie looks at things to be grateful for. She said she has been able to garner knowledge over the years. She also said she feels fortunate that she hasn’t encountered some of the physical problems others of her age come up against.
Her advice is, “Being content with your life as you live it. I have to stop and think about what I do have and be thankful.”
If you have never met Joyce Tate, you may have seen her name on one of the cross-beams at the Tooele City Pool, with a record of swimming 1,800 miles since the pool was open. She laughs about that number as she said she swam for 15 years before in the old pool and never thought to keep track.
Tate is a ball of energy whose life in the Master Gardeners started a little earlier than the other three ladies because of her job.
“When Brent Bunderson was county agent, I was the secretary at the Extension Office,” she said. “We took [the Master Gardener class] because we needed that information. So I’ve been a Master Gardener forever.”
After retiring, Tate continued with her education, taking the Advanced Master Gardener classes at Thanksgiving Point with her friends. Eventually an advanced class started in Tooele.
Tate said being a part of the Master Gardeners has helped her have a greater appreciation for the outdoors.
“It’s made me appreciate nature a lot more because I was working and too busy for the yard, and I let everything go we had in our yard,” she said. “When I started learning about perennials and annuals I wanted to get out in my yard and start growing some of these things instead of letting the shrubs and ivy take over. I wanted to try the new varieties I had been learning about. I learned to dig in the dirt, and l learned to enjoy it.”
One of the joys Tate shared was working for the Extension Office.
“I loved working there because of the variety of people,” she said.
She said she felt at one point she knew everyone in Tooele County because so many had come in with questions about gardening, farming, ranching, sewing and whatever else the Extension could help with.
“We were the source of information,” said Tate.
Besides being a Master Gardener, Tate has also been a member of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, a docent for the LDS Church Museum in Salt Lake City, served five missions as well as other callings in her church, does family history, been a part of Beuarts, which she said is a book club that also studies the arts, and, of course, she also works in her yard. She also served as a member of the fair board for 15 years.
She attributes her good health to always being involved. Besides with keeping busy with her family and friends and all their activities, she said, “I love being involved with people. I’m involved with my ward and my church.”
Of course there are those 1,800 miles on the pool beam.
“I’ve been swimming for a long time,” she said. “When I found out I had been born without hip sockets, I had to find something that wasn’t hard on my hips.”
Tate tries to make it to the pool at least three or four times a week. She also takes time every day to do some form of physical exercise.
Although it shows she swam 1,800 miles on that beam, she said she is working toward 1,900. She only has 20 miles to go. Since she swims for an hour, doing 36 laps (or 72 lengths or 1 mile) of the pool each time she goes, she should have that knocked off in no time.
She, like her other Master Gardener friends, also has traveled the world extensively. She said it started when she had given her husband a trip to Alaska when they both retired. Unfortunately, he passed away before that trip could happen, but she ended up going anyway with a family member. She has been traveling ever since.
Part of her keeping “young” might have to do with her attitude.
“I tell everyone I’m 39 and my kids ask how long I’ve been 39,” she said. “Age is a matter of mind. I think it is how you feel. I have slowed down a little bit. Sometimes I come out of the yard and have a few aches and pains. It hasn’t kept me from wanting to learn.”
Tate has a few years left in her as she mentioned her dad lived to 101 and most of that time living on his own.
“I’ve had a good role model,” said Tate.
Her one frustration at getting older is she said she hasn’t been able to keep up with technology as she would like to.
“I haven’t learned to text,” she said.
What does she like about being older?
“Things aren’t as shocking anymore,” she said. “You can sit back and you’ve seen them happen before and you’ve been able to work through them. You’ve seen it all before and you know we’re going to work through it.”
She said she relies more on the Lord and her family and friends to get her through challenges.