“It makes me feel good that she’s still physically strong,” Persico said. “I just love that little lady.”
It’s not possible to state with certainty where Ceccarelli places among the longest-living people in the world. Scientists who study and track and rank supercentenarians – those 110 and older – can’t be positive that they simply aren’t aware of some contenders for the list. And sometimes efforts to validate the age of someone said to be extremely old are frustrated by difficulties in obtaining records such as birth certificates.
“These rankings are conditional,” said Robert Young, who maintains the Validated Living Supercentenarians list for the Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group.
That list is the world’s official ranking of the oldest known humans, and the Gerontology Research Group is for 22 straight years the official gerontology consultant of Guinness World Records..
The research group has not yet added Edie Ceccarelli to the ranking because it hasn’t secured all of the personal records it needs to fully validate her age. Even so, Young says he has seen enough to have no doubt at all that Ceccarelli did in fact turn 114 on Saturday.
Young notes that Ceccarelli appears in fact to be No. 12 because the group and its partners with Guinness World Records are close to validating that Sofia Rojas of Colombia is 114 and was born Aug. 13, 1907 – nearly six months before Ceccarelli.
If both women are certified soon and added to the ranking, Rojas will be listed as the 11th oldest known person on Earth, Ceccarelli the 12th.
At present, the gerontology researchers have verified that there are alive only 10 people 114 and older. That’s 10 out of 7.9 billion. Quite the exclusive group.
Today, the human being who’s lived the longest is Kane Tanaka of Japan, at 119 years, 35 days. Like all of the elders validated to currently be 113 or older, Tanaka is a female.
Just below her in the ranking are a woman just days short of 118, one who is 115 and seven who turned 114 before Edie Ceccarelli. Of those 10 validated oldest people in the world, three are Japanese, three are American, and one each live in France, Poland, Spain and Argentina.
The three 114-year-old Americans confirmed to have turned that age ahead of Ceccarelli are Bessie Henricks of Iowa, Mila Mangold of Berkeley and Irene Dunham of Michigan.
Ceccarelli is also regarded the oldest native Californian still living in the state.
Just in January, Ceccarelli moved up several notches on the oldest-on-Earth list because of an unusual flurry of deaths.
“January 2022 was a disaster for oldest living people,” said Young of the gerontology group. In that month alone:
The oldest resident of Brazil, Antonia da Santa Cruz, died at 116 years, 224 days.
The oldest person in the U.S., Thelma Sutcliffe of Nebraska, died at 115 years, 108 days.
The second oldest Japanese, Yoshi Otsunari, died at 115 years, 40 days.
Canada’s oldest citizen, Cecile Klein, died at 114 years, 212 days.
And the fifth oldest Japanese, Yoshi Baba, died at 114 years, 215 days.
Though it did not affect Ceccarelli’s ranking, in January also died the world’s oldest known man, Saturnino de la Fuente Garcia of Spain, at 112 years and 341 days. Guinness World Records is in the process of identifying the new World’s Oldest Man, who may be Venezuela’s Juan Vicente Pérez Mora, who’s 112 years and 255 days old.
Women are far more likely than men to reach age 114 or older.
Young said that on average, women age 3% slower per year than men. Additionally, a 2019 study by St. Louis’ Washington University School of Medicine found that women’s brains appear to be about three years younger than men’s of the same chronological age.
That aging gap between the sexes has men tending to die younger, and placing lower on the Who’s Oldest list.
Everyone wants to know: What is it that allows the world’s few supercentenarians to live so long?
Asked often for her secrets to longevity, Edie Ceccarelli has on occasion responded, “Have two fingers of wine, and mind your own business.”
She reflected at her 105th birthday in 2013, “I’m content with what I have. I’ve been blessed and I have lived a life that has given me happiness. I’ve always been honest.”
Some people think good genes are the main contributor to an exceptionally long life. Others tend to think a healthy lifestyle is more important.
Said Young, of the Gerontology Research Group, “The reality is that to live to this age, you have to have both.”
He believes people like Ceccarelli are born with extraordinary genetics, and they build on that congenital propensity for super-longevity by embodying personal qualities that include being forever active, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, and remaining emotionally stable, interested and engaged.
Young also observed that the people who live the longest “tend to be self-directed individuals. They maintain the idea that they are in control of their lives.”
It also helps, the authority on aging said, to live in a temperate climate, like the one in the Sonoma-Mendocino region of California. “It just seems to be easier on the body,” he said.
Despite its amicable weather, the area has in recent decades celebrated only a few supercentenarians, among them Santa Rosa’s Ann (Pisenti) Beach Burow, who turned 110 in October of 2015. She died the following April.
Elsie Rich, who fled Vienna ahead of the Nazis in 1938 and became a chicken rancher in Santa Rosa, was 110 when she died in December 2011.
In Willits on Saturday, the day she turned 114, an impeccably dressed Edie Cecarrelli stood to accept a framed acknowledgement of her birthday from Assemblymember Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg. Wood said he learned of what was happening for Ceccarelli and thought, “I just have to go.”
It was no ordinary birthday celebration that Wood and all the others took part in Saturday in Willits. It was history.
Chris Smith is a retired Press Democrat reporter and columnist. You can reach him at [email protected].