111-year-old has lived Mexico's history

Ezequiel Guzman Gallardo is something of a living museum in this small town where he resides. He celebrated his 111th birthday last April.

Brother Guzman inherited longevity from his mother who, he said, lived to age 126. He continues to work toward his support, sharpening a few knives and painting a few figurines in this village near Tampico in the state of Tamaulipas. He largely cares for himself, a remarkable man with a perspective of history shaped by personal experience. Brother Guzman was interviewed recently for the Church News by missionaries of the Mexico Tampico Mission, under the direction of Pres. H. Aldridge Gillespie.The centenarian was born April 11, 1887, in what is now the city of Monterrey, in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. He took part in the Mexican Revolution, even joining the army of Pancho Villa for a short time. Brother Guzman was baptized in Caseta, Mexico, near Ciudad Juarez, in 1949, and has been a faithful member since then. He is a member of the Villa Gonzalez Branch in the Mexico Tampico Mission.

He walks to Church himself with the aid of a walker along the unpaved paths of Gonzalez. With him, he often carries his weathered birth certificate and proudly shows the document to those he meets.

The Church, he said, brought a great change in his life.

"I feel a great respect and love for each one of the children of our Father in Heaven."

His parents worked on a farm of 400 hectares (160 acres) that was part of a government grant. He also worked on the farm as he grew up. This was an era of so-called cattle barons, he said. They had great haciendas where hundreds of people worked.

"My father believed these Spanish landholders were vain and haughty and cared little for the poor people," remembered Brother Guzman. "My father would not let me work for them. They paid very little - half in food and supplies, and half, 50 centavos, a few cents, in cash.

"However, we know that these injustices stemmed from the bad government we had in those years."

He remembers when the revolution against the government began on Nov. 20, 1910.

"All the people ran to the plazas to join together and to take up arms against government troops. Some even armed themselves with barbed wire."

The worst experience during this time of revolution came when his father was executed by the army after some people gave false testimony about him. "The only law was the law of weapons," said Brother Guzman.

After his father was killed, the family faced hard circumstances. His mother, who earned money selling flowers and birds, could not support the family. Overnight, the children had to fend for themselves.

During this time, an acquaintance from years earlier was renewed. Revolutionary Pancho Villa, whom Brother Guzman knew as Doroteo Arango, came to town. The Arangos and Guzmans were friends before the revolution.

"He was just 10 years older than I was," Brother Guzman remembered. Young Guzman fought in Pancho Villa's army for a short time and participated in a battle at Ciudad Guerrero. During this battle, Villa received a bullet in the shin, the only wound that the revolutionary received in the war. Brother Guzman said his mother helped nurse the injured man back to health.

Brother Guzman worked in Washington and California for a time. He recalled working as a cowboy on a California ranch for the princely sum of $60 a month, and, he noted, he was given food in addition to his wages. While in California he met and married his wife, Ramona Vallantine. They moved back to Mexico to Ciudad Juarez where he continued working as a cowboy, but for much less, a scant wage on which they were barely able to survive.

It was here in Ciudad Juarez that he became acquainted with the Church. First, sister missionaries and then elders taught him the gospel. He attended a small branch of 20-30 members. At times Brother Guzman walked 13 kilometers (eight miles) to learn about the Church from the missionaries. In 1949, he traveled to Caseta, a small town east of Ciudad Juarez, to be baptized.

One aspect of the Church that he loves are the hymns, and he still remembers the hymns that small congregation sang half a century ago. He also appreciated the personal attention he received from the leaders.

"The Church gave me great hope for salvation," he said. "I was never given a high calling, but I stood at the door and gave a welcome to all who attended the meeting. I have now been a member for many years and I have never had any kind of persecution because of it. This has been one of the great blessings I have received."

"I have seen a great change in the Church in that it has grown very much," he said, noting where once were just small branches, there now are large stakes. "The great lesson the Church has taught me is to respect the life to come in the next world. I love the Church and I have a strong testimony of the gospel. The many years of service to the Lord have given me a stronger testimony, which I have to this day."

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