Edie Ceccarelli, Willits resident and oldest living American, dies 2 weeks after 116th birthday

Edie Ceccarelli, born before World War I, and a proud resident of her small hometown in Mendocino County, was the oldest living person in America and the second oldest on Earth. She was celebrated two weeks ago with a town parade.|

Edith Ceccarelli, of Willits, the oldest living American who celebrated her 116th birthday earlier this month as the second oldest person in the world, has died.

Ceccarelli, who went by Edie, and whose Feb. 5 birthday was marked in grand fashion by her hometown in Mendocino County less than three weeks ago, died Thursday afternoon at the care home where she lived the past nine years.

Her cousin by marriage, Evelyn Persico, also of Willits, said Edie ate lightly earlier in the day and she dozed. One of the women who cares for her checked in on her in midafternoon. Edie’s heart had stopped.

She was beloved in Willits, not only because her longevity was so very far off the charts. Born Feb. 5, 1908, as Edith Recagno, she was adored for her kindness, her impeccable style, her lifelong passion for dancing and her love of children.

She savored a life that lasted almost incomprehensibly longer than that of nearly every other human being. She was vital and independent until well past age 100.

On Thursday, she was 116 years and 17 days old. There was one person on Earth older than she: Maria Branyas Morera of Spain, who on Thursday was 116 years and 355 days old. Maria’s 117th birthday is March 4.

Of the 8 billion people on Earth, the two women are the only to have reached 116 years. Only 29 people are known to have reached that age ever.

Ceccarelli was the oldest living American and lived longer than any other Californian on record.

On Feb. 4, a cold and wet day in the region, her caregivers at Willits’ Holy Spirit Residential Care helped her get dressed up and bundled up. She sat at a table in the home’s garage as a long parade of fire trucks, police cruisers and decorated pickups and cars drove slowly by.

Grownups and kids inside the vehicles called out “Happy birthday!” and “We love you, Edie.” The focus of all that community affection and pride did not comprehend what was happening, but she took in each moment of the unmistakably joyful celebration.

And when, inside the Holy Spirit home, Edie was presented a gorgeously decorated carrot cake emblazoned with “116,” she traced two fingers through the icing and she took a taste. Then she did it again.

Check back for a full news obituary Friday and in the Saturday edition of The Press Democrat.

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