‘115 is really up there’: Willits celebrates oldest living American Edie Ceccarelli’s birthday

On Sunday, perhaps 20 million of the 8 billion people on Earth turned a year older. Among all those birthday celebrations, the one for Edith “Edie” Ceccarelli in her hometown of Willits stood out as strikingly unique.|

WILLITS — On Sunday, perhaps 20 million of the 8 billion people on Earth turned a year older. Among all those birthday celebrations, the one for Edith “Edie” Ceccarelli in her hometown of Willits stood out as strikingly unique.

That had nothing to do with the central Mendocino County town’s festivities’ grand and gorgeous cake, or the multitudinous flowers and balloons, or even the very long, loving and rather soggy parade that Willits staged in tribute to its favorite native daughter.

On Sunday, Ceccarelli, and no one else, anywhere, turned 115 years old.

It is but the perpetually groomed and gracious woman’s latest historic achievement.

Only a month ago, Ceccarelli became the oldest living American upon the death of Iowa’s Bessie Hendricks, who at 115 years and 57 days was three months older than she.

Ceccarelli, who was born to Italian immigrants Maria and Agostino Recagno in Willits on Feb. 5, 1908, is for the time being scientifically verified to be the third-oldest person on the planet.

Early Sunday afternoon, she sat bundled up at a table in the garage of the small, pin-neat Holy Spirit care home.

Out on the street, intermittent rain fell as a seemingly endless procession of well-wishers in fire trucks, police cars and decorated private vehicles rolled slowly past.

Mendocino County Supervisor John Haschak took it all in from beneath an umbrella. Pondering Ceccarelli’s astounding longevity, he said, “I think it’s a testament to the great air here, and the water, and the wonderful community she lives in.”

The supervisor added as he watched locals wave and call out to Ceccarelli, “I think there’s a great deal of civic pride here.”

This year, Ceccarelli was not quite as animated and alert as she was during the drive-by birthday celebrations of the past two years. At 115, her dementia has advanced and she is no longer walking.

Despite that, Perla Gonzalez, who runs the care home with her husband, Genaro, said Ceccarelli continues to do remarkably well for one of the most-senior people in the world.

“She gets up every day to brush her teeth, get ready,” Gonzales said.

She said Ceccarelli, a good eater all her life, needs no assistance with her breakfast — her favorite being scrambled eggs and sliced strawberries and bananas.

“She’s not very picky,” Gonzalez said. “What you put in front of her, she will eat.”

One time, several years ago, Ceccarelli was asked the secret to her remaining so vital well beyond age 100. She advised, “Have a couple of fingers of red wine with your dinner — and mind your own business.”

Caregiver Gonzalez said Ceccarelli is no longer having the wine with her meals.

“She cannot hold her wine anymore,” Gonzalez said. Starting a few months ago, the wine went away because it was quickly making Ceccarelli quite sleepy.

But she continues to clean her plate at each meal, and to savor her ice cream.

Her standing as the oldest American and the third oldest Earthling was verified by scientists with the Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group.

The group’s Robert Young said he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that Ceccarelli lives in California.

“I think there’s a prevalence of longevity in California, and it’s probably from the climate,” Young said. In addition to serving as director of supercentenarian — 110 years and older — research for the Gerontology Research Group, he is senior gerontology consultant for Guinness World Records.

Speaking of how unusual it is for a human being to reach the age of 115, Young said, “If age 110 is the Major League, 115 is the All Stars.

“115 is really up there.”

Young thought to introduce into the conversation the death last September of Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, at age 96.

“Edie,” he said, “was 18 years old when Queen Elizabeth was born.”

Among the many guests at Ceccarelli’s drive-by birthday party on Sunday was a niece, Claudine Recagno Zehnle of Redding. She was pleased to see how well the birthday girl was doing, all things considered.

Thinking back, Zehnle said, “Edie was always very inviting, very social. She loved to dance!”

She peered at Ceccarelli, still stylish at age 115, and said, “She was always pretty, and she knew she was pretty.”

Chris Smith is a retired Press Democrat reporter and columnist. You can contact him at csmith54@sonic.net.

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