WOODLAND PARK, N.J. — There’s a new holder of the title of Oldest American — and she’s a Jersey girl.
Adele Dunlap of Hunterdon County became the oldest person in the United States after the July 8 death of Goldie Michelson of Worcester, Mass.
Dunlap, who was born Dec. 12, 1902, in Newark, is 113 years, 7 months, 1 week old.
Asked how it felt to be the most senior citizen in a nation of 320 million, Dunlap, who resides at the Country Arch Care Center in rural Pittstown, told a visitor this week: “I don’t feel any different. Just the same.”
Asked what it meant to be an American, she said: “Well, I’ve never been anything else.”
Asked how it felt to be 113, Dunlap, who wore a Christmas-y fleece to ward off the air-conditioning, looked her questioner in the eye and answered: “I’m 104.”
She’s not. The Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group, which tracks supercentenarians, or people 110 and older, has validated her age; its database also lists her as the world’s 10th-oldest person. The oldest is 116-year-old Emma Morano-Martinuzzi, of Italy, who was born on Nov. 29, 1899.
Further proof of Dunlap’s age emerged from a drawer in the living room of her son Earl’s home in Clinton. Her diploma from South Side High School in Newark is dated June 27, 1921 — 95 years ago. Her sheepskin from the New Jersey State Normal School at Newark, the predecessor of Kean University, bears a date of June 29, 1923.
A graduation photo of Adele from 1921. (Photo: Chris Pedota/Northjersey.com)
Dunlap, who arrived at Country Arch at 99½ and is sometimes called Ms. Adele, offered no explanation for her astonishingly long life.
Her 86-year-old son also was at a loss.
“I don’t know, it’s hard to say,” Earl Dunlap said. “She never went out jogging or anything like that. She’s not really thin, but she never weighed more than 140 pounds. She smoked, and when my father had his first heart attack, they both stopped. I think she ate anything she wanted.”
Genetics probably comes into play, he acknowledged. But he added that he never met his mother’s parents and does not know to what age they lived.
The geography of Adele Dunlap’s life reads like a zigzagging Jersey day trip. According to her son, she has lived in Newark, South Orange, Short Hills, Springfield, Spring Lake Heights, Clinton and Pittstown.
The former Adele Henderson taught in the Kearny school system for several years before marrying Earl Dunlap Sr. and settling down to run the home and raise three children. Earl Sr. worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. in New York City. He died in 1963, at age 61.
Adele Dunlap stayed active as a widow, traveling with friends to Maine and Florida and attending Catholic Mass on Sundays. She was still driving when, at 87, she came to live with son, Earl, and his wife, Barbara.
Dunlap’s other son lives in Florida; her daughter died in her 40s. She has seven grandchildren (the oldest is 62), 16 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
At Country Arch, Dunlap shares a room with another resident. Local newspaper clippings attesting to her longevity — “110 and going strong,” reads one headline — are taped to the wall. On the bureau is a framed letter offering 112th birthday greetings from President and Michelle Obama.
Her son said Dunlap no longer reads the newspaper because she is unable to hold it in her hands. She doesn’t watch much TV. The care center’s activities director, Susan Dempster, said Dunlap is a “passive participant” in the daily activities, “socializes minimally” and looks forward to when the Girl Scouts come to sing Christmas carols.
When news reports of Goldie Michelson’s death anointed Dunlap as the oldest American, Dempster made an announcement in the dining room about the celebrity in the Country Arch Care Center midst.
“Everyone clapped,” Dempster said. And Dunlap nodded.
“Her awareness and her ability to communicate — she’s amazing,” Dempster said.
Shaving a decade off her age apparently is Dunlap’s habit.
“Last year, when we were telling her it was her 113th birthday, she said, ‘No, no, no, I’m only 102,’” Dempster recalled.
There are believed to be a few hundred supercentenarians in the world, and New Jersey is home to at least one other. Agnes Fenton of Englewood, who turns 111 on Aug. 1, became an Internet sensation last year when she told The Record that beer and whiskey — specifically, Miller High Life and Johnnie Walker Blue — were her secret.
Adele Dunlap is not a drinker but did occasionally enjoy a martini with her husband, her son said.
And the one food this 113-year-old swears by pairs poorly with Miller High Life or Johnnie Walker Blue: oatmeal.