The oldest living American, Hester Ford, celebrated her birthday Saturday, turning either 115 or 116, CBS Charlotte, North Carolina affiliate WBTV reports. Either way, as of July 30, she was the oldest person on record living in the U.S., according to data compiled by the Gerontology Research Group.
According to her family, U.S. Census Bureau documents indicate she was born in 1905, but then another set of Census Bureau documents say she was born in 1904. The oldest living person on the planet is Kane Tanaka of Japan, who is 117 years old.
Ford told her granddaughter, Mary Hill, that she doesn’t know the secret to her longevity, according to WBTV. “I just live right, all I know,” Ford said.
Relatives and friends drove by Ford’s home on Saturday to celebrate amid the coronavirus pandemic. People were instructed to leave gifts at the bottom of the driveway, where they would later be collected and safely introduced to the house. According to WBTV, when asked what gifts she wanted for her birthday, Ford replied: “Anything that anybody’ll give me.”
Her family told WBTV they planned to treat her to a marble birthday cake decorated with “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” although they only planned to put 16 candles on top of it.
According to WBTV, Ford was born on a farm in Lancaster County, South Carolina. She was married at 14 to John Ford, and gave birth to the first of the couple’s 12 children at age 15. Hester took care of the house, farm and the children while John worked at a local steel mill. The couple eventually moved to Charlotte. John died in 1963. Ford had not been hospitalized in the first 108 years of her life.
She now has 68 grandchildren, 125 great-grandchildren, and at least 120 great-great-grandchildren. Ford can still walk very short distances, and, until the pandemic, had attended church the first Sunday of every month for communion.
Now Hill, an ordained minister, gives the communion to Hester at home, according to WBTV.
“We just thank God for just keeping her here for us, because it gives us hope,” Hill said. “We would never want her to be here if she was sick. … We want her to have a great quality of life in her elder years. We don’t want her to be sick or anything, and trying to hold on.”