HOOPER — There was a time when everyone who lived here waved at passers-by because everyone, it seemed, was a friend or a relative.
That close small-town association isn’t true anymore. The city has grown by 1,000 percent in one man’s lifetime. But that man doesn’t want to forget his roots.
“I grew up in this small, little, pioneer community where everyone knew everyone else, and that was just a natural thing to do,” Jay Simpson said of waving at people.
He is known for his habit of waving at everyone who passes by during his daily walk at the same time each weekday morning.
Depending upon how he feels, Simpson makes a four- or five-mile journey along 5900 West and 5500 South, waving as he goes.
“The truth of the matter is, I don’t know most of the people who live in Hooper anymore,” he said.
But that doesn’t matter to the man who says he’s “84 years young.”
“I get to know a lot of nice folks,” Simpson said. “There are nice folks all over the place.”
And Charlene, Simpson’s wife, said she knows people appreciate her husband’s gesture.
“People have stopped to talk to him or take their picture with him,” she said. “He has received letters thanking him for waving.”
“It kind of helps keep the community spirit alive and better,” Simpson said, adding he believes he inherited his penchant for waving from his father.
“Everybody used to do that. … My father waved,” he said. “I’ve even seen him set things down to wave. He had this wave and a big smile.”
His father, Francis Valentine “Bud” Simpson, farmed the area. Simpson said he watched his father take care of his grandfather’s farm, too, when his grandfather was too old to do the work.
Walk with Simpson along his route and he’ll tell you stories of where he grew up and point out which houses have been there the longest.
“My father thought a farm was the best place to raise boys,” he said.
Stories of those farming days are many.
“You didn’t ever want to let the pump run dry,” he said. “You’d have to go to the neighbors to get water to prime the pump.”
He tells of putting a container of milk, wrapped in a burlap sack, in a washtub full of well water to keep it cool.
But his grandparents, the Belnaps, they had it good, he said. They had an icebox.
“Once a week, they got 25 pounds of ice,” Simpson said. “They really had a nice outfit.”
He reminisces about those days. They were the times when farmers got together to help each other with the harvest.
There were huge meals, where the families and the farm workers got together. Those were the days, he said.
As he talks, Simpson waves at everyone who passes.
And he admits to being a well-traveled waver.
He has seen much of the United States and traveled all over the world, including to Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, parts of Africa and a number of locations in Europe.
In 2000, Simpson and his wife spent four months in Cockfield, England, doing family history research.
“I used to walk up and down waving at everyone, and they even got used to waving back,” he said.
After some thought, Simpson said he believes he may have begun his walking and waving in 1989. That’s after his retirement as a computer software department supervisor at Hill Air Force Base and an LDS Church mission he and his wife served in London.
He does recall changing his route several years ago because of increased traffic along some Hooper roads.
The route he takes now generally has widened areas or sidewalks, unlike most other roads in the city.
Simpson remains committed to his morning ritual.
“I used to say, rain or shine, snow or blow, I’m going,” he said.
But now that he has gotten older, he said, he is a smidgen less dedicated on those bad-weather days.