Lansing area woman, one of the oldest living Americans, dies at 114

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

DeWitt Township — Irene Dunham, the oldest living person in Michigan and one of the oldest in America, has died. She was 114 and had lived in the Lansing area.

Dunham passed away on Sunday, said her son Bruce Dunham, 76, the only child of hers still living. She was in an assisted living facility at the time of her death, he said.

Irene Dunham, a Michigan woman who was among the oldest living Americans,  died Sunday, May 1, 2022 at age 114.

"Her body just wore out," her son said. "She didn't have any disease or a particular problem. Everything just started shutting down."

Gerontology Research Group had Dunham listed as the 10th oldest living person in the world and the third oldest in the U.S., as of April 24.

In her lifetime, Dunham went through both World War I and II, the Great Depression and two pandemics, including the Spanish flu in 1918. She also survived colon cancer and chemo in her 90s and the death of her husband Laurits Dunham in 1972.

A sore throat, her family said, kept Dunham from perishing in the Bath School bombing on May 18, 1927, which killed 38 elementary school children and six adults and injured scores of others.

The Bath Consolidated School after it was bombed on May 18, 1927, killing 38 students. Irene Dunham, a student who was home the day of the attack with a sore throat, died Sunday at age 114.

Born Irene Babcock in 1907, she lived as a homemaker and raised three children, her son said. She had seven brothers and sisters, the last of whom died at 102 last year.

Since her husband died, Dunham lived by herself, tending dutifully to her yard and home. She only moved to assisted living in 2020 in DeWitt Township, Bruce Dunham said.

"Her passion was her yard and her garden," her son said. "She spent all of her waking hours working in the yard, working in the garden. When you asked what her secret is to longevity, she says hard work, particularly outdoors."

Dunham, her son said, used to drive herself to Florida every year until her 80s. She stopped driving at 106, he said. "She was a snowbird in the winter," he said.

She even, he said, made her funeral arrangements and paid for everything back in 1988.

"We threw her a big party when she was 100 and we figured, maybe two or three more years and then when she turned 110, we threw another big party and figured this has got to be it," Bruce Dunham said with a laugh.

Her son said he and his wife began to take care of her by buying her groceries but decided to move her into assisted living "when she started falling because she needed 24-hour care."

Dunham has nine grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren, 35 great-great grandchildren and 1 great-great-great granddaughter who was born about a week ago. She was shown a picture of the baby, Bruce Dunham said.

"We're going to miss her very much," he said.