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Florida's oldest at 112, she celebrates birthday in her Clearwater condo

CLEARWATER — Her sky blue eyes light up when visitors arrive.

And although her hearing isn't what it used to be, when one of her favorite songs comes on the stereo, she'll use her kitchen table as her piano and play along.

Not bad for the oldest person in Florida. On Tuesday, Elsie Thompson celebrated her 112th birthday with 20 friends and neighbors at her Clearwater condominium.

Thompson is the 10th oldest American and the 33rd oldest human being on Earth, researchers say. She's the only person left in Florida who was born in the 19th century.

On Tuesday, in a pink suit with a corsage of mini roses pinned to her jacket, Thompson sat in her living room and clapped and nodded as her guests sang Happy Birthday.

When someone asked to take her picture, Thompson smiled and waved at the camera. "Hello, how are you?" she said.

Born on April 5, 1899, during the William McKinley administration, she's one of only 90 verified "supercentenarians," people who are 110 or older.

Thompson is aided by four caregivers who take turns providing around-the-clock support, but she still lives in the same unit at Imperial Cove Condominiums that she and her late husband bought more than 40 years ago.

Most people her age live in a nursing facility, said Dr. Stephen Coles, a UCLA gerontologist who maintains a list of the world's oldest people.

"It is unusual for a 112-year-old, even with caregivers, to not be in a nursing home," said Coles, who runs the Gerontology Research Group. "Although she is not unique, we don't see it often."

Supercentenarians are a hard group to join. Although nearly seven people per thousand live to be 100, only one in 4 million cracks the 110-year barrier. Almost all are women.

So what does Thompson think about her 112th birthday?

"It is wonderful," she said. "Isn't it just amazing?"

• • •

Thompson was born in Beaver Falls, Pa., and grew up in Pittsburgh. In 1921, she married Ron Thompson, a veteran of both World Wars. During World War II, she ran his business, which refined used gold. After the war, her husband served 22 years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

They retired to Clearwater in 1971, and Thompson took to retirement living, said her son George Thompson, 71, of Thousand Oaks, Calif. "She always loved entertaining and being with her friends inside the condo community."

When her husband died in 1986, her son asked her to move to California so they would be closer.

"She said, 'No, I want to stay where my friends are,' " he recalled. "I know it is far away, but I also knew she was happy, and it's continued to work because she's well taken care of."

Until she was 102, Thompson, who has four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, would make an annual trip to California to spend Christmas with her family. But the trips began to tire her out. Now they visit her several times a year.

Her son believes that living out her years in the home she loved has brought added benefits to her life.

"We've never thought of putting Mom somewhere else because she's been so healthy," he said.

Every morning, one of Thompson's caregivers helps her get dressed and makes her breakfast — typically oatmeal or an egg, bananas and other fruit. Afterward, she visits with neighbors in her living room. With a walker, she's able to stroll through her home on her own as caregivers stay by her side.

During her party Tuesday, Susie Harper, a caregiver for more than 12 years, played one of Thompson's favorite songs, Elmer's Tune, on the stereo. Thompson clapped and kept time to the piano music from her seat. Her friends followed along.

A few minutes later, Harper wanted to make sure the birthday girl wasn't worn out.

"Elsie, do you want to go lay down?" she asked.

"Oh, no," said Thompson, as she looked around her living room still filled with guests. "Maybe after a little bit."

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@sptimes.com.

>>

10 oldest Americans

(Nine of the 10 are women.)

1. Besse Cooper, Georgia, 114

2. Walter Breuning, Montana, 114

3. Dina Manfredini, Iowa, 113

4. Ella Schuler, Kansas, 113

5. Delma Kollar, Oregon, 113

6. Leila Denmark, Georgia, 113

7. Mamie Rearden, South Carolina, 112

8. Irma Schmidt, Connecticut, 112

9. Ruth Oliver Bruce, North Carolina, 112

10. Elsie Thompson,

Florida, 112

On the Web: grg.org

Source: Gerontology Research Group

Florida's oldest at 112, she celebrates birthday in her Clearwater condo 04/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 9:52pm]
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