World’s oldest person celebrates 114th birthday

Sharpeville: The world’s oldest person – 114-year-old Edna Parker – celebrated her feat of longevity on Thursday(August 16,2007)by munching on a slice of her favorite cake after telling reporters she’s amazed that she’s lived for so long.

Parker, who has outlived her husband, children and siblings, became the world’s oldest known person with Monday’s death of Yone Minagawa, a Japanese woman four months her senior.

Her life spanning three centuries began April 20, 1893, in a year that witnessed Lizzie Borden’s acquittal in the ax murders of her father and stepmother and a financial crisis called the Panic of 1893 that led to a stock market crash.

Dressed in a pink polka-dot dress and costume pearl jewelry, Parker was wheeled before television cameras and reporters Thursday in a dining room at the central Indiana nursing home where she lives.

“You’re the oldest person in the world still living, Grandma. That’s remarkable, isn’t it?” Parker’s granddaughter-in-law, Charlene Parker, asked in a loud voice.

Parker shook her head in amazement, clutching two old photographs, one an early 1900s image of her posing with one of her sisters, both of them wearing large frilly hats.

“It’s hard to believe,” she said.

Although she never drank alcohol or tried tobacco and led an active life, Parker offered no tips Thursday for living a long life. Her only advice to those gathered was: “More education.”

Parker, who attended nearby Franklin College, graduated with a teaching certificate in 1911, the same year she wed her childhood sweetheart, Earl Parker.

She taught for a few years in a two-room schoolhouse, but as was the custom of that era, her teaching career ended with her marriage. Parker traded the schoolhouse for life as a farmer’s wife, preparing meals for as many as a dozen men who worked on her husband’s farm.

Parker recalled her chores helping maintain the family’s barn, how she butchered chickens for Sunday post-church supper and noted with pride that she and her husband were one of the first owners of an automobile in their rural area.

Her ranking as the world’s oldest living person was confirmed by the Gerontology Research Group, an Inglewood, Calif.-based organization that tracks and verifies the ages of supercentenarians – people 110 or older.

L. Stephen Coles, a professor of computer science at UCLA who co-founded the group, said its researchers typically require three independent, dated pieces of documentation, such as a birth certificate or baptismal papers, to verify their ages.

The group, which is a consultant for the Guinness Book of World Records, needs a rigorous validation process, he said, because some families have exaggerated a relative’s age or faked documents, hoping for financial gain.

As of Thursday, its Web site listed 76 living supercentenarians, with Parker at the top.

“We find that these people have one thing in common, which is the longevity of their families – their parents and their siblings all were long-lived,” Coles said. “So its in the genes. They have all inherited a very lucky roll of the dice.”

That’s the case for Parker. Her sister, Georgia, was 99 when she died last year, while her sister, Opal, lived to be 88.

Parker and her husband, who died in 1938 when she was 45, had two sons, Clifford and Earl Junior. After her husband’s death, she never remarried, busying herself helping Earl Junior run the farm. He lived in the farmhouse with his wife and their two children for several years.

When they moved out, Parker lived there alone for decades until she was 100.

Twelve years ago, she moved into the Heritage House Convalescent Center in Shelbyville about 25 miles southeast of Indianapolis that’s also the home of 7-foot-7 Sandy Allen, the second-tallest woman in the world. Allen did not attend Thursday’s ceremony for Parker.

Parker currently has 5 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great grandchildren. The youngest of them, 7-month-old Kole Scott, sat on her lap Thursday as she and her visitors ate white cake, her favorite, decorated with sugar flowers and icing declaring her “the oldest person in the world.”

Before she sampled the cake, Parker thanked her departing visitors, some of whom had attended her 114th birthday party last April.

“I want to thank you people for giving up your time and coming back. I enjoyed being with you,” she said.

Grandson Don Parker, 58, said he’s proud of his grandmother, even if she herself isn’t overwhelmed by her achievement.

“We think it’s amazing, a little lady from the country who really doesn’t care much about being acknowledged or anything like that,” he said. “She’s never really done anything special, but this comes up and she’s getting worldwide notoriety.”