James Kelso, 100, now among rare centenarians

Born in 1917, Kelso has survived both world wars and witnessed 17 U.S. presidents

0
George (left) and Michael Kelso (right) celebrate their father, Jim’s, 100th birthday. After buying an Emblem ranch in 1950, Jim and his family have called the Big Horn Basin home for roughly 70 years. Photo by Mathew Burciaga

James “Jim” Kelso has been a staple of the Emblem bench for 67 years.

After moving from Mexico to Wyoming in 1950, Kelso bought Oleo Acres where he became one of the first farmers to successfully cultivate common alfalfa seed in the Big Horn Basin. Nearly three quarters of a century later, Kelso can still be found in Emblem along with his children and grandchildren.

On April 6, dozens of family, friends and well-wishers packed into the main room of Zion Lutheran Church in Emblem to celebrate a momentous occasion — Kelso’s hundredth birthday. Now 100, Kelso has been ushered into an exclusive club of centenarians — individuals who have reached or surpassed 100 years old.

According to the U.S. Census, Kelso is one of the estimated 55,000 centenarians alive today — roughly .02 percent of the U.S. population. The club becomes more exclusive in Wyoming as census data indicates only 72 centennials lived in the state in 2010. Additionally, data does not allow us to determine how many surpass Kelso; anyone 100 or over is grouped into the same category.

Regardless of the statistical ambiguities, one thing is certain — Kelso’s life is truly remarkable.

Kelso was born into a world at war. The day before his birth on April 7, 1917, the United States formally entered World War I by declaring war on Germany.

Throughout his youth, Kelso lived in Texas, Arizona and Illinois. He graduated high school in El Paso, Texas, with a focus on mechanics. By the 1930s, Kelso worked for various departments of Admiral Radio in Chicago.

The world, however, returned to war, prompting Kelso to enlist in the U.S. Navy. Kelso was assigned a tour of duty in North Africa until he was transferred to the Pacific Theatre in anticipation of a mainland invasion of Japan. The invasion never came; the unprecedented power of the atomic bomb proved too much for the Japanese and the U.S. was able to declare victory, ending World War II.

At the end of the war, Kelso moved to Mexico to work as a livestock inspector for the U.S. government. Kelso primarily looked for incidents of hoof and mouth disease — an affliction that experienced a major outbreak in the late-1940s.

By 1950, Kelso moved to Emblem and settled as an alfalfa farmer. He married his wife Audrey in 1960, with whom he had two children — Michael and George. Audrey died in

In his hundred years of life, Kelso has witnessed major societal and industrial shifts.

When Kelso was born, the global population was just under two billion. Now, as industrialization has run its course through major parts of the globe and advances in medicine have eliminated several culprits of a high mortality rate, it stands at 7.5 billion.

Kelso’s life also coincided with the rise of motorized and advanced travel. In 1917, the Ford Model T had been in production for a decade and Boeing barely had launched its first plane; now, there are roughly 285 million cars in the U.S. and 24,000 turbojet airlines in service.

Most remarkably, if U.S. history was considered to start at 1776, Kelso has witnessed 41 percent of it.