Evelyn Margaret Ralston was born 17
October 1899 in Chicago, Illinois, the third child of
Peter William and Hannah J.
December 29, 2010 (1)
By KENNETH L R. PATCHEN Correspondent
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."