Iowa woman believed to be oldest person in US dead at 115

LAKE CITY, Iowa — Bessie Laurena Sharkey Hendricks, an Iowa woman believed to be the oldest person living in the U.S., died Tuesday at the age of 115.

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Hendricks died at the Shady Oaks Care Center in Lake City, according to the Des Moines Register. According to her obituary provided by Lampe & Powers Funeral Home in Lake City, Hendricks was born on Nov. 7, 1907, in a farm home southeast of Auburn, Iowa.

She was the fifth of six children born to Hugh Sharkey and Mattie Clark, according to online Iowa birth records.

Hendricks celebrated her 115th birthday at Shady Oaks on Nov. 7 and was listed last year by the Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group as the nation’s oldest living person, according to The Associated Press. According to her obituary, Hendricks became the oldest validated person living in the U.S. following the Jan. 17, 2022, death of Thelma Sutcliffe of Omaha, Nebraska.

Hendricks raised five children and had nine grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and 42 great-great-grandchildren, according to The Hill.

Hendricks’ death makes Edie Ceccarelli of California the oldest living American, according to the Gerontology Research Group. Ceccarelli will turn 115 on Feb. 5. Maria Branyas Morera, 118, who currently lives in Spain, is technically the oldest living U.S. citizen, according to the website. She was born on March 4, 1907.

According to the Gerontology Research Group, the oldest documented living person in the world is French native Lucile Randon, who was born on Feb. 11, 1904.

Hendricks taught at a one-room schoolhouse in Calhoun County and raised five children, two of whom she outlived, according to the AP.

She married Paul Glenn Hendricks on June 22, 1930, in Lake City, according to online Iowa marriage records. Paul Hendricks died on May 25, 1990, at the age of 90, according to online Iowa death records.

According to 2010 census data, there were 53,364 centenarians living in the U.S., and 846 of them lived in Iowa.

Many factors may explain why Iowa has so many centenarians, Peter Martin, a professor at Iowa State University, who specializes in lifespan development and longevity, told the Register.

“It’s because we are frozen half the year,” Martin joked.

Martin told the newspaper that Iowa’s cold winters do make its residents tougher.

“Our research has shown in order to be 100 you have to be resilient and robust in your personality in dealing with stress,” Martin told the Register. “And that’s where the cold weather comes in. We do know how to weather a storm, literally and figuratively.”

Hendricks will be buried on Saturday at Lake City Cemetery, according to her obituary.

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