Elma Corning, 112; Was the Oldest Californian

Times Staff Writer

Elma Tennis Corning, the oldest Californian, has died at the age of 112.

Corning died Monday night at Kingsley Manor Care Center in Los Angeles of natural causes associated with aging, said Dr. L. Stephen Coles, co-founder of the UCLA-based Gerontology Research Group.

Coles said an autopsy would be performed to learn more about how people live to become what he calls “supercentenarians.”


Born Feb. 22, 1892, on a farm near Oskaloosa, Iowa, the former Elma Grace Tennis graduated from Oskaloosa High School in 1910. Always musically inclined, she played piano and organ at her local church.

She earned her teaching certificate in domestic science, which later became known as home economics, from Iowa State Teacher’s College (now the University of Northern Iowa) in Cedar Falls in 1912.

The young woman taught in junior high schools in Grinnell, Iowa, and her hometown. And she practiced what she taught.

“She was a real good cook and made all her own clothes,” said her son, Russell Corning of San Rafael, Calif. “She loved to make dresses.”

In 1917, the teacher married Duane Corning, a World War I Army pilot, in Des Moines, Iowa. He died in 1956.

Four years after their marriage, the couple moved to Los Angeles, where Elma Corning became what she had taught young girls to be: a homemaker.

Her only child was born May 10, 1924.

“We were pretty good friends,” Russell Corning said Tuesday. “She loved sports and took me to my first football game, USC vs. Utah in 1932.”

As her son grew older, Elma Corning’s interests expanded beyond her home, and she began taking cello lessons in the late 1930s.

“She was pretty good,” her son recalled. “She played for a few years with the Glendale Symphony Orchestra.”

In 1943, Corning went back to work -- this time as a welfare office receptionist for Los Angeles County. She retired in 1960 when she was 68.

After retiring, Corning threw her efforts into the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. In her 70s, she became president of its women’s association and was an avid bridge player at church social events.

In 1981, she moved into the Kingsley Manor assisted-living facility, still, in her son’s words “the picture of health.”

She continued driving until she was 96, when she became worried enough about her dimming eyesight that she gave her son the 17-year-old Chevrolet she had driven 63,000 miles.

But once a year until she was 102, her son said, Corning flew to San Francisco to visit him and his wife. Even in her 100s, he said, she maintained her interest in current events, music and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Russell Corning said his mother had spent much of the last year sleeping, and she stopped eating a few weeks ago. But he said that when he visited her for the last time Saturday, they had a nice conversation about how much they both enjoyed life.

Her son, her only survivor other than a 97-year-old cousin, said Corning would be cremated and her ashes buried in Oskaloosa. He said a memorial service would be planned at the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles.