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St. Francis resident reaches milestone 114-year-old woman is now oldest person born in America

Her life has included parts of three centuries. She's lived through two world wars. She was born before the invention of the Model T.

And now Olivia Patricia "Pat" Thomas, a 114-year-old woman with a sweet tooth for cookies who lives at the St. Francis Home of Williamsville, is the oldest person born in America.

"We're thrilled," said Charlene Youknut, director of the St. Francis Home. "It's just absolutely remarkable to be a part of history, to have someone living with us who predates the Pan-American Exposition . . . She really is from the horse-and-buggy, gaslight era."

According to the Gerontology Research Group, which tracks what it calls "supercentenarians," Thomas, who was born June 29, 1895, also claims the title of second oldest living American.

The change in Thomas' status came after the previous record holder, Gertrude Baines, a 115-year-old Los Angeles woman, died in her sleep Friday morning.

A New Hampshire woman, Mary Josephine Ray, also 114, is the oldest living American. But Ray was born in Canada and moved to the United States at age 3, which gave our hometown girl the title of oldest person born in America.

The only person older in the world is believed to be Kama Chinen, a Japanese woman, who was born May 10, 1895, a week before Ray.

Louis Epstein, an official with the gerontology organization, said Thomas holds a few other records: She is the oldest resident ever documented in the history of New York State and the longest-lived person ever born in Iowa.

Youknut said it's not clear whether Thomas realizes her special spot in history.

"She'd be delighted," she said. "But I can't guarantee she'll remember in five minutes."

She explained that Thomas is very hard of hearing and may have some dementia, not surprising given her age. "She sort of retreats into her own world. But it's a very pleasant world. She has quality of life."

The former Snyder resident, known affectionally as the "Plant Lady" for the herb garden she grew, is still able to get around on her own through the use of a wheelchair.

She participates in activities at the nursing home and has retained all her social graces. "She says: please, thank you, you look lovely and how lovely you are do to that," Youknut said.

She also has a sweet tooth, particularly when it comes to cookies. "Not a day goes by she isn't looking for cookies," Youknut said.

With her husband, Frederick, whom she met in kindergarten in Iowa, she moved first to Illinois and later to Buffalo where Frederick Thomas was an engineering professor. He died in 1982. They did not have any children.

Many attribute Thomas' longevity to her devotion to herbs, which she grew at her Snyder home. "She believed in herbs," Youknut said. "She was fond of a little wine with dinner," she added, although Thomas no longer drinks.

The nursing home is now making plans to throw Thomas a party to celebrate her new status in the record books.

"We'll get her a cake," Youknut said, "and a tin of cookies. She'll go to town on that."

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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