Nebraska’s Thelma Sutcliffe, 114, becomes oldest living American

OMAHA, Neb, — Thelma Sutcliffe is not concerned about assuming the mantle as the oldest living American. She would simply prefer COVID-19 restrictions to go away so she can have lunch again with her friends at the Nebraska assisted living facility she has called home since 2017.

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According to the Gerontology Research Group, Sutcliffe, 114, took over the top spot in the United States when Hester Ford, of Charlotte, North Carolina, died April 17. She was 115.

The second-oldest American is Maria Branas Morera, who was born in California on March 4, 1907, and now lives in Spain.

The oldest living person in the world, confirmed by the group, is Kane Tanaka of Japan, who was born Jan. 2, 1903, according to the Gerontology Research Group.

Numbers mean nothing to Sutcliffe.

>> Hester Ford, oldest living American, dead at 115

“She’s just looking forward to the day that I can finally eat with her in the dining room again,” Luella “Lou” Mason, a longtime friend, told the Omaha World-Herald. “She tells me, ‘I know we have to go by the rules, but I don’t like it.’”

Thelma Liesche Sutcliffe was born Oct. 1, 1906, to August and Maude Adams Liesche in Benson, a city that was annexed by Omaha in 1917, according to Nebraska birth records. She married Bill Sutcliffe in Council Bluffs, Iowa, located across the Missouri River from Omaha, on Sept. 3, 1924, according to Iowa marriage records. She was 17.

The Sutcliffes had no children, the World-Herald reported. Bill Sutcliffe died during the 1970s, according to the newspaper.

Sutcliffe has survived two bouts of breast cancer, KETV reported.

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Longevity runs in the family.

Marie Liesche Sorenson -- Sutcliffe’s older sister -- died in Arizona just before her 107th birthday, the World-Herald reported.

Sutcliffe and Mason became friends while living at Elmwood Tower in Omaha, the newspaper reported. They have remained close since Sutcliffe moved to Brighton Gardens, and Mason has Sutcliffe’s power of attorney. She calls the senior living center 24 hours ahead of time to schedule visits, the World-Herald reported.

Sutcliffe’s hearing and sight are fading, Mason said, but her mind is still “very sharp.”

“I’m happy (Brighton Gardens) is keeping things locked down because it’s keeping everyone healthy, but Thelma is as determined as ever to do what she wants to do,” Mason told the World-Herald. “She asks me every time I visit, ‘Are you going to eat with me today?’ It breaks my heart that I can’t.”

E.A. Kral of Wilber, Nebraska, who keeps track of age records, said Sutcliffe is also the oldest Nebraskan on record. The previous record was held by Clara Herling Huhn, who was 113 years, 327 days when she died in 2000, Kral said.

Sutcliffe received her COVID-19 shots at the earliest opportunity, Mason told the World-Herald. Testing her for the coronavirus, however, received some pushback.

“They went in to test her for COVID and they told her that I had approved the test,” Mason told the newspaper. “She looked at (the swab) and looked up at the person holding it and said, ‘You’re not going to be sticking that thing up my nose. You can tell Lou to stick it up hers.’”