GARDEN GROVE — Minnie Cohen, who was recognized at her 109th birthday party this year as the oldest Social Security recipient in the nation, has died of pneumonia, family members said Tuesday.
Cohen had been feeling ill and was taken to Garden Grove Hospital and Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and died about 6 a.m. Friday. She was surrounded by loved ones.
"She just wanted to keep on living and living," her granddaughter, Rhonda Larson, 36, of Rancho Santa Margarita, said.
The petite Mrs. Cohen, who dedicated most of her life to caring for her siblings and later her five children, was best remembered at the Huntington Valley Nursing Center in Huntington Beach as a feisty woman who always had a comeback line, according to employees and relatives.
Because she had been blind the last several years, she memorized her bingo card so that she could join friends for bingo games, said Tracy Cabrera, licensed vocational nurse at the nursing home.
Larson said, "She was independent up until the very end."
Born in New York, she was the oldest of nine children and delayed marriage until she was 27 so that she could help her parents raise her siblings, relatives said. During the Great Depression, Cohen made "one-pot meals" for her family while both of her parents worked, Schneiderman said.
"She was like a second mother to her brothers and sisters," Larson said.
Cohen's education was limited to elementary school, but she listened to the radio constantly so that she could keep up with current events up until the last days of her life, relatives said.
"She was self-educated," said Dotty Schneiderman, her 76-year-old daughter in New York. "She had more common sense than anyone I know."
As a young woman, she held jobs such as an usher at Radio City Music Hall and store detective on the lookout for shoplifters, family members said.
About eight years after her husband, David Cohen, died of a heart attack in 1939, Mrs. Cohen moved to Orange County. She lived at Huntington Valley during the last 25 years.
"I still remember her playing wheelchair volleyball," Cabrera said, "and asking me, 'Where's the ball, darling?' "
Her room there was decorated with family photos, "lots and lots" of birthday cards and letters from former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Next to those letters is one from President Bill Clinton, congratulating her on her 109th birthday in March.
Cohen was buried at Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Cemetery in Costa Mesa on the day she died, family members said.