Willits woman, 114, now oldest person in California

Mendocino County native Edie Ceccarelli is now No. 1 in California — the oldest of the nearly 40 million people who call this state their home.|

Mendocino County native Edie Ceccarelli is now No. 1 in California — the oldest of the nearly 40 million people who call this state their home.

Ceccarelli, the pride of Willits, took over the title on July 2 when Berkeley's Mila Mangold passed away. A native of Nebraska, Mangold lived to be 114 years and 230 days old.

Cecarrelli’s age today is 114 years, 164 days.

Born on Feb. 5, 1908, she has been certified by Guinness World Records and the Gerontology Research Group as the seventh oldest person on Earth — to be clear that is No. 7 out of almost 8 billion.

Ceccarelli's profoundly extraordinary longevity also makes her the second oldest American. The most-senior person in the country — Bessie Hendricks of Lake City, Iowa — is just 90 days older.

Meet Ceccarelli, who as a younger woman loved little more than to dance, and you’d likely be astounded by how elegant she is, and how she looks to be decades younger than she is.

“Edie appears to be in great shape, hopefully in line for more honors in the future,” said Robert Young of the Gerontology Research Group, which monitors and studies the relative few humans who live to 110 years or older.

Evelyn Persico of Willits, Ceccarelli’s cousin by marriage, visited with her just days ago at the little Holy Spirit Residential Care Home.

“She looks great,” Persico said. “Her appetite is still good.”

Persico, who's 82, recalled that while looking at Ceccarelli's face she declared, “Edie, I've got more wrinkles than you do!”

For most of Ceccarelli's life, she was so healthy that she didn't keep so much as an aspirin in the house.

At 114, she’s living with dementia and a few other health issues. Only rarely anymore will she stand and push her walker, preferring to sit.

“She really doesn’t want to walk as much,” said Perla Gonzalez, who operates the Holy Spirit home with her husband, Genaro. “She still walks a little bit, but not has much as she used to.”

Each day, Ceccarelli dresses sharply, and she relishes every meal. The typical person her age is reduced to always lying in a bed and relying on caregivers for everything.

Ceccarelli isn't only up every day, she sometimes responds to requests or procedures she finds unsatisfactory by turning a bit uppity.

“I just love it when she fires up,” cousin Persico said. “She's still got that spunk.”

Once when asked for her advice for a long life, Ceccarelli replied, “Have a little red wine with dinner. And mind your own business.”

Another time she offered this counsel to those desiring a good and fulfilling life: “You've got to work. You learn to live without a lot, for one thing. You can't have everything you like. You've got to sacrifice a little.”

Ceccarelli started out in 1908, the year Henry Ford introduced the Model T, as Edith Recagno, the first of seven children born to Maria and Agostino Recagno. She would outlive each of her younger siblings.

Edie recalls picking potatoes for 50 cents a day, and reading at night by the light of an oil lamp.

She graduated with the Willits Union High School Class of 1927. And, in '33, she married Elmer “Brick” Keenan. They soon moved to Santa Rosa, where he went to work as a typesetter with The Press Democrat.

The Keenans settled onto Santa Rosa's Benton Street and they adopted a daughter, Laureen, who would grow up to marry and have three children. Edie has outlived them all.

When Brick Keenan retired from The Press Democrat in 1971, he and Edie left Santa Rosa and returned to quieter, smaller Willits. They had a house built there along Mendocino Avenue.

Brick Keenan died in 1984. His widow later married Charles Ceccarelli. They'd lived happily for just a few years when Charles died in 1990.

Edie Ceccarelli did fine living alone until she was past 100 years old. She's now celebrated and treated like royalty by the staff of the Holy Spirit Residential Care Home.

Last Feb. 5, Ceccarelli waved and smiled from a shady spot near the porch as her town cheered her roundly with a huge small-town birthday parade.

All of the six people on the planet who've lived longer than Ceccarelli are women. Men rarely make it very high on the oldest-on-Earth list.

Currently at No. 1 is Lucile Randon of France, at 118 years and 157 days.

Randon became the oldest confirmed human upon the April 19 death of Japan's Kane Tanaka, who was 119 years and 107 days.

The only living American confirmed to be older than Ceccarelli, Bessie Hendricks, is not only the oldest Iowan today; researchers confirmed that she has lived longer than anyone ever before born in Iowa.

Edie Ceccarelli, for now the oldest known Californian, shows no sign of counting the days. But clearly, she is savoring them, along with some of the simple pleasures of life.

“She still gets her wine, especially at night,” said Perla Gonzalez of the Holy Spirit care home. “It helps her sleep.”

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