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Evelyn Margaret Ralston was born 17 October 1899 in Chicago, Illinois, the third child of Peter William and Hannah J. McAffee Ralston..

December 29, 2010 (1)

By KENNETH L R. PATCHEN Correspondent (2)

Evelyn Margaret Ralston, 111, of Evanston, the 52nd oldest person on the planet with a verified date of birth, died peacefully in her sleep Dec. 29 at the Mather in Evanston.

At the time of her death, Ms. Ralston was the oldest Illinois resident, and the 17th oldest in the United States, according to tables maintained by the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group. Researchers estimate there may be 300 to 450 people in the world over 110, but their birth dates are not verified. Of the world's 84 verified supercentenarians, people older than 110, 80 are female.

Ms. Ralston died of old age.

Born Oct. 17, 1899, Ms. Ralston was the third child of Peter W. Ralston, a land surveyor, and Hannah Jane McAffee, a housewife.

In recent years, Ms. Ralston cooperated with Boston University Medical Center's New England Centenarian Study researchers, funded by the National Institute of Health, to learn more about longevity.

When Ms. Ralston joined the longevity study, director, Dr. Thomas T. Perls, wrote to Ms. Ralston's niece, Elizabeth A. P. Ralston: "(Evelyn Ralston) is a very rare individual. We strongly believe that she will greatly assist our research of healthy aging." .

The research is expected to help avoid age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer and stroke.

Ms. Ralston lived through many transforming social and economic eras: the final decades of the first and second industrial revolutions, the technological revolution, women's suffrage, the progressive era, the Great Depression, World Wars I and II, the atomic age, the space age, passage of Civil Rights legislation and the modern computer revolution.

When she was born, Chicago streets were not paved, and there were no telephones. It would be eight years before her Chicago Cubs would win the first of their two back-to-back World Series Championships in 1907 and 1908. In eras when being a home-based wife was common, she was a single working woman with her own life. Female life expectancy in 1899 was about 48 years and is about 80.8 years today.

Her longevity was highlighted in appearances on national television programs and in newspaper articles.

On Chicago's Today Show, Lester Holt talked to her Oct. 15, 2008, her 109th birthday, for an interview on the NBC Evening News and Today Show. She discussed her life in three centuries and how she aged so well. Stories about her appeared in the Chicago metro papers and Pioneer Press' Evanston Review. She was a featured former employee and pension recipient during the 2008 centennial celebration of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church.

Ms. Ralston told Lester Holt she played golf, "A little, a little. I learned to play. I didn't hit the ball very far." When asked which golfer she enjoyed watching play, she immediately said Tiger Woods. When Holt asked if she liked the Chicago Cubs, she told him: "Always. I always watched the Cubs. We didn't live far from Wrigley Field when I was growing up. Later, I'd watch them on television."

When Holt asked her how she had lived so long. Ms. Ralston said, "I don't know. I just grew up well ... I haven't done anything to keep on going. I haven't done anything special. I haven't been sick all the time."

The question was asked so often, however, it forced her to think about why she had such good health. In recent years, she would tell people it was because she never married or had children, according to niece Elizabeth Ann P. Ralston.

Ms. Ralston was a forward-looking person, even at her 100th birthday celebration with family and friends at the Orrington Hotel in Evanston. Soon thereafter, in a letter to her niece, she wrote: "The next big thing is the next century."

She always liked to look good when she went out even though she rarely left the Mather where she lived in her apartment. As she wrote in a 1998 letter: "You know it makes a person feel good to be well dressed and make an impression on people."

Born at home, 4328 Lowell Ave. in Chicago, Ms. Ralston inherited the place when her parents died. Homes did not have indoor plumbing. She recalled horses pulled peddler wagons down the street selling foods such as coffee, strawberries, fish, as well as cups and dishes. Rag collectors also would callout for discarded iron.

The family's brown chickens provided white eggs and their garden was an important source of food. When she was born, only 2,500 cars were built in the entire country. By the time Route 66 opened to the west coast in 1926, her family owned a Model A Ford.

"I learned how to drive," she said.

When she was 15, she helped her brothers move their cattle in a vehicle driven using multiple pedals and shift. (Probably on the family homestead farm near Roscoe, IL.)

Ms. Ralston's sister, Dorothy, died at 19 of scarlet fever, but brothers Thomas, Kenneth and William died at 96, 95, and 80 years of age respectively. Her dad died at 91.

Ms. Ralston arrived in Evanston in 1953 where she lived until retirement. A secretary-stenographer at the World Service headquarters of the Methodist Church in Evanston for 43 years, now known as United Methodist Church, she helped provide education materials to missionary preachers throughout the world.

For many years, she would vacation at the San Lorenzo, Palm Springs, Calif. She loved to travel and see the world -- mid-Europe, England, Scotland, New England -- and went on trips related to her work for the World Service.

A travel diary she maintained from 1973 to 1984 noted this about a sunny and warm Sept. 17, 1973 day on a Brussels tour: "17th Century City -- no hippies or communists."

In her younger years, her parents felt they could not afford a radio, so she bought one. Later, she got a hand-me-down television set from a work colleague. "I think my folks were shocked," she said.

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, she and colleagues took salary cuts to keep their jobs. She was careful with money and paid her parents room and board. When she sold the family home she inherited in 1950, she invested about $10,000 in stocks (the equivalent of $91,000 today) she heard others touting as good investments, such as IBM, Commonwealth Edison, AT&T and other well known companies.

As the stocks she bought for mere dollars gained in value and split over the next few decades, Ralston was able to secure the fundamental core of her retirement savings. Her stocks supplemented her Methodist pension check and her Social Security check.

For 22 years, she lived quietly at the Mather, an independent living and retirement home she liked very much. With friends, she would travel, work on art projects, visit with family, read newspapers and watch Tiger Woods play golf on television as well as professional sports teams like the Bears and Cubs.

In recent months, niece Elizabeth Ralston would visit her. Sometimes family names would come up in the conversation and her aunt would note the person was younger than she is. Her niece would remind her, "Everyone is younger than you are."


  1. Sources:
  2. Evanston News, December 29, 2010.
  3. Copyright 2010 Sun-Times Media, LLC

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