DES MOINES, Iowa – Bessie Hendricks of Iowa lived through the roaring ’20s, the Great Depression, two World Wars, the dawn of the internet age and a global pandemic.
At age 115, she was believed to be the oldest person in the U.S. when she died Tuesday at a senior living facility in Lake City.
Hendricks, who was born Nov. 7, 1907, taught at a one-room schoolhouse in her home state. She raised five children, two of whom she outlived.
Back when she turned 112, Hendricks told the Fort Dodge Messenger the secret to her longevity: Work hard, stay away from doctors, and make sure to enjoy sweets, like a piece of pie or slice of birthday cake.
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Hendricks’ death leaves Edie Ceccarelli of California as the oldest living American, according to the Gerontology Research Group in Los Angeles. She is set to turn 115 on Feb. 5.
Centenarians, supercentenarians in the US
Centenarians are people who live past 100 years old, according to the Exceptional Longevity Laboratory at Iowa State University. According to 2010 census data, 53,364 centenarians were living in the United States, or about 0.017% of the country’s population.
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Factors influencing longevity include genetics; environmental support, including family support and health care; a lower-stress lifestyle; and the ability to get outside and connect with nature, says Peter Martin, a professor at Iowa State whose research specializes in life span development and longevity..
Hendricks was a supercentenarian, a person who lives past 110. As of the 2010 census, there were 330 supercentenarians across the country, which is just 0.6% of the centenarian population.
While living past 110 is rare, Martin said, it’s a true testament to one’s endurance and outlook on life.
“After 115 it gets very difficult,” he said. “Every year is really a gift that you get that you could not have expected to get.”
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Hendricks’ funeral will be Saturday at the Lampe and Powers Funeral Home in Lake City. Funeral director Dana Morris said the service will include a tribute to Hendricks’ life, including readings of memoirs written by her deceased daughter.
Follow Francesca Block on Twitter at @francescablock3.
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