Originally published April 23, 2008
111-year-old Breuning world's 28th oldest person, group says
By ERIC NEWHOUSE
Tribune Projects Editor
At age 111, Great Falls' Walter Breuning is officially a supercentenarian and ranked the 28th oldest person in the world, according to the Gerontology Research Group.
He's also the second oldest living American male, following George Francis of California, who is 107 days older. Both were born in 1896, Francis on June 6 and Breuning on Sept. 21.
"If you keep your mind busy and if you keep your body busy, I guess you're just going to keep going," Breuning said philosophically as he waited for lunch Tuesday in the Rainbow Retirement Community.
According to the Inglewood, Calif.-based Gerontology Research Group, which verifies reports of extreme ages, only 75 living people — 64 women and 11 men — qualify as supercentenarians, or people living to be 110 or more.
"Look around this place," said Breuning, gesturing around the restaurant. "It's mostly women. All the men are gone."
The world's oldest person is American Edna Parker of Indiana, who was born on April 20, 1893, and turned 115 on Sunday with a birthday celebration at which 115 helium-filled balloons were released into the sky.
Dressed in a blue and white polka dot dress with a pearl necklace, she clutched a red rose during the ceremony.
"We don't know why she's lived so long," said her 59-year-old grandson Don Parker. "But she's never been a worrier and she's always been a thin person, so maybe that has something to do with it."
Her two sisters also lived to advanced ages: Georgia died at 99, while Opal lived to 88.
"Longevity is the family history," said Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Institute for Aging Research in New York, noting that good genes and a healthy lifestyle are keys to longevity.
That doesn't seem true of Breuning, whose mother died at age 46 and whose father died at 50. "My mom had an operation that didn't work out, and my dad basically drank himself to death. My brothers and sisters — two brothers and two sisters — all passed away at about 75," he said.
Another positive characteristic might be a strong work ethic. "I had to leave school and go to work when I was 14," Breuning said. "I was making $2.50 a week scraping out trays in a bakery back about 1910."
Dr. Tom Perls, an aging specialist from the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, said people who don't worry appear to live longer than others. His studies on about 1,500 centenarians show "they tend to manage their stress better than the rest of us," Perls said.
And that's a characteristic of Breuning, who was dressed Tuesday in his trademark pinstriped blue suit and neatly knotted tie. "My goodness," he beamed. "I couldn't feel any better!"
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
America's oldest residents
According to the Gerontology Research Group, which verifies reports of extreme ages, about half of the world's 30 oldest people live in the United States. Here's a list of the oldest Americans, their rankings in the world, and their birth dates. For more information, check out the group's Web site of supercentenarians at www.grg.org/Adams/E.HTM
1. Edna Parker, Indiana April 20, 1893 (115)
3. Gertrude Baines, California April 6, 1894 (114)
5. Catherine Hagel, Minnesota Nov. 28, 1894 (113)
6. Beatrice Farve, Georgia, April 30, 1895 (112)
8. Mary J. Ray, New Hampshire May 17, 1895 (112)
10. Olivia P. Thomas, New York June 29, 1895 (112)
11. Neva Morris, Iowa Aug. 3, 1895 (112)
14. Maggie Renfro, Louisiana Nov. 14, 1895 (112)
19. Daisey Baily, Michigan March 30, 1896 (112)
21. C. Letitia Lawson, Iowa April 10, 1896 (112)
23. George Francis, California June 6, 1896 (111)
24. Eunice Sanborn, Texas July 20, 1896 (111)
25. Florence Busch, Wisconsin Aug. 13, 1896 (111)
26. Besse Cooper, Georgia Aug. 26, 1896 (111)
27. Berta Rosenberg, New York Sept. 5, 1896 (111)
28. Walter Breuning, Montana Sept. 21, 1896 (111)
* * *
Here is some inspiration that proves genetics aren't everything. Keep busy with work, with physical activity, with mentally engaging activities (socializing counts), and you'll hardly have time to stress when life puts up a fight.
Anecdotally, the best thing I have done to manage stress is get more B-vitamins in my diet through supplements and properly prepared corn, which must be soaked in lime hydrate to make the vitamins bioavailable (and perhaps reduce the harmful lectin content present in most grains).
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