Over the centuries, the human life expectancy has increased substantially. During the Roman Empire, the average life expectancy was 22 to 25. By 1900, it had increased to 30; by 1985, it had increased to 62. Today it is approximately 77. Some people, however, live to be 100. Known as centenarians, they are not as rare as you might think. In 2005, the nited States had the greatest number of centenarians with 55,000. Japan came in second with 25,000. Anyone who reaches this milestone in the nited States receives a letter from the president, while in Japan they receive a silver cup and a certificate from the prime minister. Centenarians are not uncommon, unlike super-centenarians, people who live to be 110 or more.
Norris McWhirter, editor of the Guinness Book of World Records, first used the word "super-centenarian" in his 1976 correspondence to A. Ross Eckler, Jr., an age claim researcher. William Strauss and Neil Howe also used the term in their book Generations. Verifying super-centenarians can be difficult due to a lack of documentation; this, however, is changing with birth registration.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Thomas Peters was the first super-centenarian. He was born in Groningen, the Netherlands, on April 6, 1745, and died on March 26, 1857, at the age of 111 years and 354 days.
Due to a lack of evidence to back up Peters’ claim, some scholars consider Geert Adriaans Boomgaard the first super-centenarian. Boomgaard was born in Groningen, the Netherlands, on September 21, 1788. Very little is known about his life other than he was born and died in Groningen and his father was a boat captain or a soldier in Napoleon’s army. Boomgaard was married twice and lived to be 110 years and 135 days old.
Delina Filkins, one of the earliest American super-centenarians, was born on May 4, 1815, in Herkimer County, NY. Filkins spent almost her entire life, excluding the last two months, within 10 miles of where she was born. Her father, William, lived to be 97, and her mother, 78. Filkins had six children, four of whom preceded her in death. Filkins lived through the presidencies of James Madison to Calvin Coolidge. She died in Richland Springs, NY, at the age of 113 years and 214 days.
The most well-documented case of a super-centenarian was that of Jeanne Calment. Calment was born in Arles, France, on February 21, 1875. In 1896, she married her second cousin, a wealthy storeowner. Well off, Calment chose not to work and concentrated on her hobbies instead. Calment outlived her husband, daughter and grandson. With no heirs, Calment made a deal at age 90 with her lawyer, Francois Raffray, to pay her a monthly sum until she died in exchange for her apartment. When Raffray died in 1995, his widow continued the payments. Calment lived on her own until she was 110 at which time she moved into a nursing home.
Calment came into international fame in 1988 when reporters arrived in Arles on the centenary of Vincent van Gogh’s visit. Calment met the painter at her father’s store when she was 14. When she was 114, Calment made a brief cameo in the film Vincent and Me (1990), becoming the oldest actress ever. A documentary on her life, Beyond 120 Years with Jeanne Calment, was released in 1995. A CD reminiscing about her life to rap music, Time’s Mistress, was released in 1996.
Calment made her first public appearance as the "world’s oldest person" according to the Guinness Book of World Records in 1988. She lost this title in 1990 when Carrie C. White of Florida claimed to have been born in 1874. White’s claim was disputed, and after she died in 1991, Calment became the oldest recognized living person, a week shy of her 116th birthday. When she reached 120 years and 238 days on October 17, 1995, the Guinness Book of World Records verified Calment as the "oldest person ever."
Calment never let age make a difference. At age 85, she took up fencing; at age 100, she still rode a bicycle. Calment walked unassisted until age 114, when she fell and had to have hip replacement surgery. Although she used a wheelchair from then on, she remained alert and received visitors. Calment retired from public life due to declining health at age 122. She died at the age of 122 years and 164 days. Calment attributed her longevity and youthful appearance to olive oil, which she rubbed into her skin and poured on all her food.
As of February 15, 2008, American Edna Scott Parker is the oldest-living person in the world. Born on April 20, 1893, Parker became the oldest-living American on February 14, 2007, after the death of Corinne Dixon Taylor, and the oldest-living person in the world, on August 13, 2007, after the death of Yone Minagawa of Japan. Parker was born on a farm in Johnson County, IN, and ate the standard fare of meat and starch. She taught at a two-room schoolhouse in Smithland until she married Earl Parker in 1911. He preceded her in death, along with their two sons. As of October 2007, Parker had five grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren and 13 great-great grandchildren.
Parker lives in the same retirement home in Shelbyville, IN, as Sandy Allen, the second tallest-living woman in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. She is still in good health and able to walk on her own. Parker likes to read and recite poetry, especially that of James Whitcomb Riley.
Mother Mary P. Romero Zielke Cota and daughter Rosabell Zielke Champion Fenstermaker also reached the status of super-centenarian. Cota was born in 1870 in Montecito, CA, and died at the age of 112 years and 17 days. Fenstermaker was born in 1893 in Carroll, NE, and died at the age of 111 years and 344 days.
It is unfortunate that these individuals outlived their loved ones and friends, but imagine everything they have seen. What amazing lives they have led.
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