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Published: Monday, 7/16/2001

Michigan woman declared world's oldest

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
At 114, Maud Farris-Luse's life spans generations. From left, her only surviving daughter, Lucille Bull, granddaughter Cindy Hewes, and great-granddaughter Cierra Hewes visit. At 114, Maud Farris-Luse's life spans generations. From left, her only surviving daughter, Lucille Bull, granddaughter Cindy Hewes, and great-granddaughter Cierra Hewes visit.
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COLDWATER, Mich. -- Maud Farris-Luse gently wrapped her wrinkled fingers around her daughter's hand, forging an unspoken bond between the two women.

It's one of the few ways the 114-year-old woman can communicate her affection, family members say.

The Guinness Book of World Records says she's the world's oldest living person. The designation was given June 19 after the previous record-holder, Marie Bremont of France, died last month.

The longevity record thrills Mrs. Farris-Luse, said Lori Ferris, 32, her great-granddaughter.

"She asked us if we were sure. And when we said 'Yes,' she said, 'Well, there are a lot of people in the world,' " Ms. Ferris said. "After that, she said, 'Wow.' "

Born just north of Grand Rapids on Jan. 21, 1887, Mrs. Farris-Luse now lives in The Laurels of Coldwater, a nursing home where she sleeps most of the day. She has trouble communicating, can't walk, is hard of hearing, and has difficulty seeing. But her vital organs are healthy and she eats three meals a day with her friends in the cafeteria.

For the most part, her family believes she's happy.

"What's not to be happy about," said Jay Neusbaum, 46, Mrs. Farris-Luse's grandson. "She gets three meals and relaxes all day."

And now she's the world's oldest living person -- not an easy feat when 6 billion people are on the planet.

"There are a lot of people out there who say they are the oldest living person but obviously all of these claims can't be verified," said Louise Whetter, researcher and record verifier at Guinness headquarters in London. "My job is to keep track of all the tips that come in. And at the moment, Maud Farris-Luse is definitely the oldest living person."

Mrs. Farris-Luse's life spans all of parts of three centuries.

When she was born, Grover Cleveland was president. At the time, there were no cars. Radio. Planes. Movies.

She has outlived all but one of her seven children -- Lucille Bull, 72, who lives in the Toledo suburb of Maumee.

"We always said she would have the biggest funeral in town. But now we don't think so, because she's outliving all her friends," Mr. Neusbaum said. "In fact, she's outliving many of her grandchildren."

It was Ms. Ferris' relentless research of her great-grandmother that led Guinness to Mrs. Farris-Luse.

An e-mail from a New York genealogist tipped Ms. Ferris off that her great grandmother likely was the oldest person in the United States. The news intrigued Ms. Ferris, who began digging up census records and looking for clues in Angola, Ind., where her great-grandmother moved when she was a young girl.

"When you die, sometimes you're forgotten," Ms. Ferris said. "I didn't want that to happen to my grandma."

With no birth certificate, Ms. Ferris used her great-grandmother's marriage license to certify her age. The license listed Mrs. Farris-Luse as 16 when she married her husband, Jason, in 1903.

When Ms. Bremont of France died on June 6, Ms. Ferris sent information about her great-grandmother to Guinness officials. A few days later, Guinness called and confirmed that Mrs. Farris-Luse was indeed the world's oldest living person.

Jay Neusbaum pays a visit to his grandmother at her nursing home with his own granddaughter, Desiree Woodcox. Jay Neusbaum pays a visit to his grandmother at her nursing home with his own granddaughter, Desiree Woodcox.
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Her family is excited about the news. So are people in the Branch County nursing home, about 90 miles northwest of Toledo.

"Meeting Grandma Farris is potentially more exciting than meeting the president," Mr. Neusbaum said. "She'll last longer."

Granddaughter Cindy Hewes of Maumee said family members regularly visit Mrs. Farris-Luse. But with more than 100 grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren scattered in the area, it's hard to keep track of who stops by the nursing home.

With great-great-great grandchildren added to the mix, Mrs. Farris-Luse is the matriarch of a family that spans many generations.

The majority of them remember her as an active woman who loved gardening and fishing with an 18-foot cane pole.

Mrs. Farris-Luse credits her longevity to fishing, not a healthy lifestyle or her secret recipe for moonshine.

"She said she went fishing a lot becuase God always said those days don't count," Mr. Neusbaum said smiling.

While she enjoyed most of her life, it wasn't an easy one.

Mrs. Farris-Luse worked at a variety of jobs, most involving manual labor. A proud woman, Mrs. Farris-Luse made ends meet by selling her garden-grown vegetables and collecting roadside dandelion greens, which she sold for $1 a bunch.

The death of her children hurt.

"She was very aware of the death of her kids, even when they were getting into their 80s and 90s," said Mrs. Hewes, 41.

Mrs. Hewes' mother, Lucille Bull, who is Mrs. Farris-Luse's only surviving child.

But the family knows that such sadness comes with beating the odds. Born at a time when women were not expected to live past age 48, Mrs. Farris-Luse is among a small group of medical marvels.

Although women's life expectancy has skyrocketed to about 80 years old and centenarians are becoming common, researchers are still interested in what makes a long-lasting person tick.

Her family recently gave permission to the Harvard School of Medicine in Boston to take her blood for research. Maybe, it's a key to mysteries of old age, family members said.

Mrs. Farris-Luse remained active and lived at home in Coldwater until she was 104 and suffered a broken hip. She then allowed herself to be admitted into a nursing care facility.

Her husband, Jason Farris, died 50 years ago when his wife was 64. She later remarried Walter Luse, a man who died three years into their marriage.

Mrs. Farris-Luse will be featured in the new book of records to be released in October. Officials acknowledge that the record of being the oldest living person in the world is broken often.

While Mrs. Farris-Luse's family is proud of her longevity and vitality, they know she has a long way to go before she is a permanent fixture in the book.

After all, Jeanne Louise Calment of France lived to be 122 years and 164 days old.



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