Bessie Hendricks

Shady Oaks Care Center

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Living to 100 is no easy feat, especially with U.S. life expectancy slipping to 76.4 years. But Bessie Hendricks, a former teacher, who began her career in a one-room schoolhouse, surpassed expectations by living long enough to become a supercentenarian — someone who has reached 110 years — and one of just several hundred Americans to hold the status. Until her death Jan. 3 at age 115, she was presumed to be the oldest living American.

Hendricks was born in 1907, grew up on an Iowa farm, and married her husband Paul in 1930. They remained married for nearly 65 years until his death in 1995. She was also the mother of five children, two of whom she outlived. When Hendricks celebrated her 112th trip around the sun, she told The (Fort Dodge) Messenger that her secret to a long life included hard work, indulging in sweets, and a desire to "stay away from doctors." 

Gallery: Secrets of People Who Lived Past 100

With Hendricks' death, Edie Ceccarelli, who lives in California, is now believed to be the oldest person in the U.S., according to the Gerontology Research Group. Ceccarelli celebrates her 115th birthday Feb. 5.

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