Edna Parker dies at 115; former teacher was world’s oldest person

Edna Parker was photographed at her 115th birthday party in Shelbyville, Ind..
Edna Parker was photographed at her 115th birthday party in Shelbyville, Ind..
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Edna Parker, a former Indiana schoolteacher who was certified as the world’s oldest person, died Wednesday at a nursing home in Shelbyville, Ind. She was 115.

Her death was announced by Dr. Stephen Coles of the Gerontology Research Group, which validates claims of extreme old age.

Parker was a member of the group Coles calls the super-centenarians -- individuals who are at least 110 years old. She had held the rank of world’s oldest person since the Aug. 14, 2007, death in Japan of Yone Minagawa, who was older by four months.

Coles said the second-oldest person in the world now is a Los Angeles woman: Gertrude Baines, the daughter of former slaves, who is also the oldest person of African descent in the world. Baines is 114 and lives in a nursing facility near USC.

The new holder of the title of world’s oldest person is Maria de Jesus of Portugal, who turned 115 on Sept. 10.

The caption with a photo appearing with the online version of this article said Edna Parker celebrated her 118th birthday on April 20, 2008. As the article and corrected caption note, she turned 115.

Parker was born on April 20, 1893, in Morgan County, Ind. She graduated from Franklin College in 1911 and taught in a two-room schoolhouse until she married Earl Parker, her childhood sweetheart and next-door neighbor.

As a farmer’s wife, she rose at 4 a.m. to fix breakfast for the family and hired hands and do her chores, which included maintaining the barn and butchering chickens for Sunday supper.

She outlived her husband, who died in 1938, and their two sons. She never remarried. Her survivors include five grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great-grandchildren.

Parker lived by herself on the family farm until she was 100. At that lofty age, she could still climb a ladder to fix a light, grandson Donald Parker said Thursday. When her family learned she was still climbing ladders, they persuaded her to move in with relatives.

She spent her last years at the Heritage House Convalescent Center in Shelbyville, about 25 miles southeast of Indianapolis. A fellow resident of the center was Sandy Allen, whom Guinness World Records considered the world’s tallest woman at 7 feet, 7 inches. Allen died in August at the age of 53.

Last year, Parker helped Guinness record another feat when she met another super-centenarian, then-113-year-old Bertha Fry of Muncie, Ind. The meeting took place at Parker’s nursing home a few days after her 114th birthday. A Guinness representative on hand to witness the event said their combined age of 227 was “the highest aggregate age of two people meeting each other.”

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels commended the two women, who both grew up on small Indiana farms, became schoolteachers and ate a lot of meat and starch over the course of their exceptionally long lives. Parker especially enjoyed eggs, sausage, bacon and fried chicken. “I guess we’ll have to rethink lard,” Daniels quipped after hearing about her high-fat diet.

Parker, who credited her longevity to various factors, including education, remained relatively free of health problems in her last years. According to family members, she took few medications and at 113 could still walk.

She retained a sense of humor, evident at her 114th birthday celebration when she remarked that 114 was “several years too long. I probably knew George Washington.”

Woo is a Times staff writer.