Oldest American Jeralean Talley celebrates 114th birthday with friends, family

10:05 AM, May 28, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Oldest American turns 114, still not ready to drive

 

Detroit (Free Press) -- At 114, Jeralean Talley, the oldest living American, has witnessed plenty of history during her lifetime.

The advent of the automobile, airplane, television and telephone, to name a few.

So it was only fitting that her birthday celebration today included a personalized letter to her from the nation's first African-American president, Barack Obama, whose victory marked another historical event witnessed by the feisty centenarian.

The letter, which referred to Talley as "part of an extraordinary generation," was matted in a gleaming silver frame. It was placed at the head table of the social hall at New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Inkster, where nearly 100 guests gathered to honor the nation's oldest birthday girl.

Talley, who is the third oldest person in the world, made it through the 3-hour-long party with her five-generation family without a hitch. In her turquoise dress, white shawl and white hat, she walked over to the social hall from the church with the help of her walker and two aides. She held her great-great-great-great-grandson in her arms during the luncheon. And she fed herself, at one point asking onlookers to leave her alone so she could enjoy her meal of chicken, pasta salad and meatballs in peace.

At 114, she's entitled.

Besides, Talley had a busy day before the birthday party.

On Saturday, she went fishing - and caught seven fish. The outing inspired Sunday's sermon, which the Rev. Dana Darby titled "Let's Go Fishin," which was about finding and following Jesus.

¦ Video: Inkster's Jeralean Talley, 113, recalls first - and only - time driving

¦ Related: World's oldest living American celebrates 114th birthday today

Talley sat in the front pew, with her family alongside her and her lifelong friend Willa Williams behind her.

After the church service, when asked whether she really caught seven fish, Talley replied, nodding her head, "Yes, I did."

Then she went back to eating her birthday cake.

"She's fun. She's great to be around. And she likes to eat," said Talley's great-great-great-granddaughter Aerial Holloway, 23, who lives with Talley in an old house in Inkster. She said Grandma Talley, as many in the family call her, taught her to live by the Golden Rule, which was Talley's lifelong philosophy.

"She always said, 'Treat others the way you would want to be treated,' " Holloway said, adding Talley credited her longevity to one source. "She always says God is her reason" for being here.

Talley, who was born May 23, 1899, in Montrose, Ga., moved to Michigan in 1935 and has lived in Inkster for decades. She had one daughter, Thelma Holloway, who said her mother constantly preached the Golden Rule to her family.

Holloway said her mother also taught her how to accept gifts with grace. "She told me that when someone offers you something - even if you don't need it or want it - take it with a smile."

Talley became the oldest person living in the U.S. on March 21, when Elsie Thompson of Florida died. She also moved up to the No. 3 spot in the world with the recent death of Maria Redaelli-Granoli of Italy, according to the Gerontology Research Group, which verified her age.

According to relatives, longevity runs in Talley's family. Several of Talley's 11 siblings lived well into their 90s.

When Talley was in her 90s, she was plenty active. Every year, she would take one grandchild with her to another state to celebrate Palm Sunday. They would travel by bus (she never learned to drive). She bowled, but gave it up at 104. And she was mowing her own lawn at 105.

Dinisha Lundy, 29, of Livonia had never met Talley before, nor did she attend her church. But she came to her birthday celebration Sunday, along with her 1-year-old daughter, after reading about Talley on the Internet.

"It's history," Lundy said. "You want to be able to witness this."

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