World's oldest person: 'Every day is a gift from above'

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Wayne — The world's oldest person on Friday gave credit to God for her record-breaking lifespan.

Inkster resident Jeralean Talley, who turns 116 next month, sat with family as she was honored during The Senior Alliance 35th annual luncheon at the Wayne Tree Manor in Wayne.

"Every day is a gift from above. There is nothing we can do without God," Talley said before the luncheon. "He made us, and He knew when He wanted to take us."

Talley also gave advice to younger generations.

"If you want to do it right, follow Him," she said. "I don't care what you do for me, if it weren't for the good Lord, you wouldn't do it."

Talley, born May 23, 1899, was verified earlier this month as the world's oldest person by the Gerontology Research Group, a California-based organization that keeps track of the longest-living people in the world. The previous record-holder, Arkansas resident Gertrude Weaver, died April 6 at 116 years old, according to the group.

Talley is a client of The Senior Alliance, a private nonprofit agency created in 1980 to provide assistance to seniors in 34 suburban communities in southern and western Wayne County. She received a standing ovation as she was introduced by chairman Frank Vaslo at the start of Friday's luncheon.

"I want to highlight one of our success stories," Vaslo said of Talley. "We have the oldest person in the world here. Not just Michigan, not just the United States, but in the world."

During the luncheon, Talley was featured in a video by the agency's Medicare and Medicaid services that recently helped make updates to the woman's Inkster home.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, in akeynote speech emphasized the need for better longterm medical care, an issue she faced when her husband, former Rep. John Dingell Jr., 88, was ill.

"I believe God had a plan and I belive God's plan was for me to experience all that I experienced so that I could be a hands-on advocate," she said. "We have to fix long term care in this country. Period."

Dingell said current programs were not created to address longterm medical needs.

"The Affordable Care Act, no matter what you think of it, did nothing to address longterm care in this country, and not dealing with it isn't going to make it go away," she said. "It's a problem, and the way we start (fixing it) is by talking about it."

Former U.S. Rep. John Dingell

Dingell's husband was honored at the luncheon with a legislative award for contributions over decades in politics.

In accepting the award, Dingell reflected on meeting legislative goals with his father, Rep. John Dingell Sr.

"About a year ago, I woke up and I realized that the things that my dad and I set out to do years ago had been accomplished," he said. "Dad was one of the authors of Social Security, and it's done. And then this year we found that we had completed the great program for affordable care, so that no longer will Americans fear not having health insurance when sickness comes."

Dingell urged people to protect both programs.

"You may think that when these things have been done, your tasks are at an end. That is not true," he said. "There are people out there trying to take these benefits away from American seniors. And I know that (The Senior Alliance) will lead effective fighting and that we will see that these benefits are protected for future generations."

Other honorees included the LaJoy Group, presented with the corporate award and Robert and Carolyn Quillico, who received the Edward H. McNamara award.

(313) 223-4616