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Bessie Hendricks

Bessie Laurena Hendricks (née Sharkey) was an American supercentenarian who, at the time of death, held the titles of the oldest known living person in the United States, and the fourth-oldest living person in the world (after Lucile Randon, Maria Branyas Morera, and Fusa Tatsumi). Her age was validated by the Gerontology Research Group (GRG).

Biography

Bessie Hendricks was born as Bessie Laurena Sharkey on a farm in Carroll County, a few miles southeast of Auburn, Iowa, on 7 November 1907. She was welcomed by her parents, Hugh, an immigrant from Ireland, and Mattie (Clark) Sharkey, along with older siblings John, David, Laurence, and Ethel. A younger sister, Anna, was born in 1910 after the family had moved in 1908 to a 160-acre farm two miles east and one mile north of Lake City in Calhoun County.


At the age of five, Hendricks began attending first grade – there was no kindergarten – at the country school across the road from the family’s farm. When she wasn’t in school, she helped with chores at home. By the time Bessie Hendricks entered seventh grade, the local country school was closed due to the lack of pupils, so she attended Central School in Lake City. A more profound life change would occur, however, when Hendricks’ mother died from an illness on 2 July 1921. Thereafter, 13-year-old Bessie Hendricks had to assume many more household responsibilities. She continued her education, however, and graduated from Lake City High School in May 1926. During her high school years, Hendricks completed a normal training course that allowed her to teach country school following her graduation. Starting in the fall of 1926, she taught country school in the Lake City area for four years.

Just before she started her last year of teaching, Hendricks attended a dance in Lohrville one evening with a friend named Art Hendricks, who had an older brother named Paul. After Paul and Bessie married on 27 June 1930, at the Woodlawn Christian Church, the couple lived in Rands for nearly three years. Paul Hendricks worked at the grain elevator and depot, in addition to running a small store. The couple’s first two daughters, Shirley and Joan, were born during this time. In March 1933, the young family moved to a farm east of Lake City that would be the Hendricks’ home place for the next 47 years. The family expanded to include Roland (Ron), Glenda, and Leon.

After Paul and Bessie Hendricks retired and held their farm sale in 1979, they moved to a home in Lake City in July 1980. The couple were one month shy of celebrating their 65th anniversary when Paul Hendricks died on 25 May 1995.

In her later years, Hendricks stayed busy helping her family with various projects, including processing 500 chickens one summer. She is also active in the Woodlawn Christian Church, where she has been a member for 92 years.

In the summer of 2016, a little over 90 years after graduating from Lake City High School, Hendricks attended the all-school reunion in Lake City.

Reportedly, Bessie Hendricks was comfortable with her life at Shady Oaks, where her family visited her often. She had nine grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren, 42 great-great-grandchildren, and seven great-great-great-grandchildren. With no major illnesses and only a couple prescription medicines in Hendricks’ daily routine, her physician, Dr. Derek Duncan, of Lake City, calls her his “miracle lady.”

Hendricks became the oldest validated person living in the United States, following the death of Thelma Sutcliffe on 17 January 2022.

Following the death of Mila Mangold on 2 July 2022, Hendricks became the last surviving validated person in the United States born in 1907, and one of only two validated American-born people remaining born in 1907 (the other being Maria Branyas Morera).

On 12 July 2022, at the age of 114 years, 247 days, Hendricks surpassed the final age of Neva Morris to become the oldest validated person ever born in the state of Iowa, and the second-oldest validated person to ever reside there, after Dina Manfredini.

Since the death of Sofia Rojas on 30 July 2022, Hendricks is one of only three validated people born in 1907 who is still living (the others being Maria Branyas Morera and Fusa Tatsumi), and the oldest validated living person residing in the Americas.

Since the death of Barbara Barton on 12 August 2022, Hendricks is one of only four American-born people born before 1909 who is still living (the others being Maria Branyas Morera, Edie Ceccarelli, and Hazel Plummer), and one of only five American-born people born in the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (alongside Branyas Morera, Ceccarelli, Plummer, and Nina Willis).

Since the death of Tekla Juniewicz on 19 August 2022, Hendricks currently ranks as the fourth-oldest living person in the world whose age is validated by the GRG, after Lucile Randon, Maria Branyas Morera, and Fusa Tatsumi.


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