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Obituaries

Ramona Trinidad Iglesias-Jordan, 114; Oldest Person in the World

May 31, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Ramona Trinidad Iglesias-Jordan, the world's oldest person and the last human being on Earth born in the year 1889, died Saturday of pneumonia in Rio Piedras, a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico. She was 114 years and 272 days old.

Her death was confirmed for The Times by Dr. L. Stephen Coles of the UCLA-based Gerontology Research Group, which verifies human age claims for the Guinness Book of World Records.

Coles' group and Guinness officially recognized Iglesias-Jordan as the oldest person in the world only a few weeks ago. Ironically, she died just two weeks after the woman who had inadvertently but incorrectly held the title since November.

That was Charlotte Enterlein Benkner who was born in Leipzig, Germany, on Nov. 16, 1889, and died May 14 in Youngstown, Ohio.

Despite the recognition of Benkner as the oldest American and the oldest person in the world, Iglesias-Jordan's family refused to give up, said Robert Young, Atlanta-based senior claims investigator for the Gerontology Research Group. The family presented a baptismal certificate (written more than seven months after her birth), a 1912 marriage certificate, 1910 and 1920 census data and a birth certificate issued in 1948 as proof that she was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 31, 1889 -- some 10 weeks earlier than Benkner.

After verification, both the Gerontology Research Group and Guinness designated Iglesias-Jordan as the world's oldest person in April. When Benkner died two weeks ago, they called her the "second oldest person" and detailed her incorrect tenure as "oldest person" for the six months it took Iglesias-Jordan's family to prove their case.

Coincidentally, noted Young, both women were the eldest and longest surviving (so far) of 11 children; both married, and neither had children. One sister of Iglesias-Jordan lived to the age of 103, and a brother lived to 101. She is survived by two sisters, aged 94 and 89.

"The real secret was in the genes," Young said of Iglesias-Jordan's longevity, discounting her own attribution to always cooking with pork fat.

The dubious title of world's oldest person -- an achievement of longevity but inevitably an honor of short duration -- now goes to Hendrikje Van Andel-Schipper of the Netherlands, who was born June 29, 1890.

Young said Sunday that "Aunt Hennie," the new title holder, is the first person in some time to inherit the crown at "a mere 113." She is the eldest of eight people alive worldwide who were born in the year 1890. The oldest living American, he said, is now Emma Verona Johnston of Worthington, Ohio, who also is 113.

The demography detective said that, besides Benkner, the last six consecutive world's oldest people -- Eva Morris of Britain, Marie Bremont of France, Maud Farris-Luse of the U.S., Kamato Hongo and Mitoyo Kawate of Japan and Iglesias-Jordan -- each received the designation at the age of 114.

Most also died at 114, Young noted, which he said seems to be the normal maximum human life span. The longest verifiable human life span has been 122.

As for Iglesias-Jordan, the last of the 1889ers, she was born in a year that also saw the births of Adolph Hitler and Charlie Chaplin, the Johnstown, Pa., flood, the opening of Oklahoma to white settlement and completion of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

When she was born, the daughter of Eduardo Iglesias-Ortiz and Luisa Jordan-Correa, whose surnames were combined to form her own, her native Puerto Rico was still part of the Spanish empire.

Young said Iglesias-Jordan could recall the Spanish-American War of 1898, and told him that before the war her teachers spoke only Spanish, but afterward, Americans arrived, introducing English.

He said she also had clear memories of San Felipe, the hurricane that killed more than 2,000 people in Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Florida in 1928.

Iglesias-Jordan married Alfonso Alonzo-Soler in 1912, and maintained their home while he worked as a bank manager. Although they had no children, they adopted a nephew, Roberto Torres-Iglesias, who is now 85. He had been planning a 115th birthday party for his aunt.

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