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Records Prove Puerto Rican Oldest At 114 Born In 1889, She Recalled When Spain Controlled The Island.
By Matthew Hay Brown, Sentinel Staff Writer
April 23, 2004
PHOTO: Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- She was born in the 19th century, has lived into the 21st, and now it's official:
At 114, Ramona Trinidad Iglesias Jordan -- "Tatiana" to her friends -- is the world's oldest living person.
Guinness World Records said Thursday that it had confirmed her birth on Aug. 31 or Sept. 1, 1889, making her more than two months older than an Ohio woman previously thought to be the world's most senior citizen.
"She was a very strong person, always the most powerful person in the family," said Jorge Iglesias, her nephew. "She was the one who would take leadership in any case with the family."
Asked by a local newspaper in a recent interview how she had managed to live so long, Ramona Iglesias laughed: She cooked with pork fat and ate everything.
She was born in the mountain town of Utuado when this Caribbean island still was a sleepy outpost of the Spanish Empire. Sugar and coffee dominated the economy, and the majority of the population was illiterate. She was 8 years old when U.S. troops invaded.
"Yes, I remember when the Americans entered," she told the San Juan tabloid El Vocero. "When I went to school the classes were still in Spanish, and there were no American teachers."
Guinness World Records, which tracks the world's oldest person, confirmed her status after reviewing birth, baptismal, marriage and census records.
While the dates vary -- a baptismal certificate of April 1890 says she was born Aug. 31, 1889, while a birth record issued in 1948 says Sept. 1 -- all records agree that she is older than Charlotte Enterlein Benkner of North Lima, Ohio, who was born Nov. 16, 1889.
Iglesias was born before Groucho Marx and every U.S. president from Dwight Eisenhower onward. She was a teenager when Orville and Wilbur Wright first flew their Wright Flyer.
The year she was born, Jack the Ripper terrorized London, Mark Twain published A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Benjamin Harrison was inaugurated president of the 38 United States. Charlie Chaplin, Jean Cocteau and Adolf Hitler all entered the world.
"She is pretty old," Jorge Iglesias said. "She has lived in three centuries."
Ramona Iglesias, the oldest of 11 children born to Eduardo Iglesias Ortiz and Luisa Jordan Correa, grew up and attended primary school in Utuado. She married Alfonso Soler on the day after Christmas in 1912, and the couple lived in Arecibo, on the island's north coast. They did not have children of their own but raised a nephew, Roberto Torres Iglesias, now 85.
Ramona Iglesias remembers the Maine, the battleship whose mysterious destruction in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898, led the United States to declare war on Spain, as well as the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
She saw Spain cede her homeland to the United States after the Spanish-American War, became a U.S. citizen with the rest of the island population in 1917, and was already 62 when Puerto Rico became a U.S. commonwealth in 1952.
She remembers Hurricane San Felipe, a Category 4 storm that devastated Puerto Rico in September 1928 before rumbling through the Bahamas and on to Florida, leaving 2,100 dead.
"Nothing happened to the house in Arecibo, but the wind was blowing strong," she told El Vocero.
Iglesias and Soler also lived in Utuado and the Santurce section of San Juan. Soler died in the 1970s. Two of Iglesias' younger sisters -- Isabel, 94, and Gladys, 89, have survived. Another sister, Concepcion, died at age 103, and a brother, Panchito, died at 101.
She lived alone in the Hato Rey section of San Juan until she was 104, and was able to walk until she was 109.
Now she has good days and bad. Jorge Iglesias is petitioning the government to pay for her 115th birthday celebration this year. She lives in a nursing home in the San Juan area, where she has been receiving visitors from local newspapers and television.
Wire services contributed to this report. Matthew Hay Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 787-729-9072.