World's oldest person, Michigan woman turns 116 on Saturday

"You are more likely to the win the lottery than to reach this age," Gerontology Research Group director Robert Young said.
By Doug G. Ware  |  May 23, 2015 at 4:08 PM
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DETROIT, May 23 (UPI) -- Recently crowned as the oldest person in the world, Michigan resident Jeralean Talley turned 116 years old on Saturday.

Talley became the world's oldest person last month after the death of Gertrude Weaver, who was also 116. Weaver held the title for less than a week, as she died just five days after Japan's 117-year-old Misao Okawa.

Talley is one of three living members of the 19th century club, having been born on May 23, 1899 in Montrose, Ga. In 1935, she moved to Michigan, where she married her husband, Alfred, who died at the age of 95 in 1988.

Relatives say she remains in good health, active and mentally astute. Until just a few years ago, she continued to bowl -- a favorite pastime -- and even mow her own lawn.

Two birthdays ago, Talley received a personally-written letter from President Barack Obama, congratulating her for being a part of an "extraordinary generation." This year, she received yet another well wish from her presidential pen pal.

"The breadth of your experiences and depth of your wisdom reflect the long path our Nation has traveled since 1899," Obama wrote. "During this time, there have been setbacks and breakthroughs, false starts and improbable victories, and through it all our country's spirit has endured -- strengthened and enriched by each generation."

The world's oldest woman also received a token of appreciation from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services this week -- a check for $116.

Talley has never really offered a firm formula for living so long, saying simply, "It's all in the good Lord's hands. There's nothing I can do about it."

The Talleys had one child, 77-year-old Thelma Holloway, who now lives with her mother and cares for her. Jeralean also has three grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

Having lived in three different centuries, the supercentenarian has lived to see a lot. The first airplane was flown by the Wright Brothers when she was four. She was almost 13 when the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic. The automotive industry boomed when she was in her twenties. And television took off in her forties.

Talley has also witnessed all of the 20th century's most historic events, including six American wars. She was 15 when World War I began, 40 at the start of World War II, 51 for the Korean conflict, 56 for the Vietnam War, 91 for the Gulf War and 102 for the September 11, 2001, attacks that initiated the ongoing War on Terror.

"You're more likely to the win the lottery than to reach this age," said Robert D. Young, director of the Gerontology Research Group's Supercentenarian Research and Database Division, which tracks the world's foremost elders.

For a little more perspective, consider that William McKinley was in the White House the year Talley was born, which was also the birth year of actors Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, gangster Al Capone, writer Ernest Hemingway, and filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock -- all of whom died decades ago.

USA Today reported in March that just five people born during the 1800s were still alive. Now there are only three: Talley, Georgia resident Susannah Mushatt Jones (born July 6, 1899), and Italian citizen Emma Morano-Martinuzzi (born Nov. 29, 1899).

Of the 47 supercentenarians alive today, according to the GRG, 45 are women. The oldest living male is 112-year-old Sakari Momoi, of Japan. The only other man on the list is 112-year-old Yasutaro Koide, also of Japan.

The oldest human being ever verified was French citizen Jeanne Calment, who lived 122 years and 164 days.

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