- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

SAN PABLO, Calif. (AP) She's strong-willed and had a taste for Twinkies and KFC dinners well past her 110th birthday. Meet 113-year-old Mary Christian, a California woman now believed to be the oldest American.

Mrs. Christian received the title last week from the Gerontology Research Group, a nonprofit collection of volunteer demographers who study aging and chronicle those who age long and gracefully.

The group said she became the nation's eldest resident after last week's death of Mary Parr, 113. After Miss Parr's death, John McMorran, also 113, held the title briefly until Mrs. Christian's age was confirmed.

Born in Taunton, Mass., on June 12, 1889, Mrs. Christian now has the distinction all to herself.

"She's physically in good health. She's always astounding her doctors," said her great-granddaughter, Sharon Hanney. "She had a cold when she was 102 and got over that."

Mrs. Christian moved with her family from Massachusetts to California at age 10. She was working in a Richmond chocolate factory when the 1906 earthquake hit, and she recalled for relatives that the boss let employees take bits of the broken sweets home after they fell on the floor from the shaking.

Mrs. Christian's two sons are dead, but her family includes 14 grandchildren and more than 30 great-grandchildren, said Michael Rinna, whose wife is a niece of Mrs. Christian's.

Mrs. Christian now lives at the Creekside Care Center in San Pablo, an eastern suburb of San Francisco. Only a few of her closest relatives can hold a conversation with her, as she only recognizes their familiar voices, Miss Hanney said.

Mrs. Christian has lost much of her vision and essentially is bedridden, but retained her taste for fast food until two years ago.

"She used to be just crazy about Kentucky Fried Chicken. We would take her KFC," Miss Hanney said. "She also loved Twinkies."

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