Edie Ceccarelli, the oldest person in the US, dies aged 116

<span>Edie and Evelyn share a moment in the living room where Edie lives.</span><span>Photograph: Rachel Bujalski/The Guardian</span>
Edie and Evelyn share a moment in the living room where Edie lives.Photograph: Rachel Bujalski/The Guardian

Edie Ceccarelli, who was the oldest person in the US and the second oldest person on Earth, died on Thursday.

Related: Sweet 116: town throws birthday bash for America’s oldest person

Ceccarelli died a little over two weeks after her home town – the small, redwood-crested northern California town of Willits – threw her a huge birthday bash, as is their yearly tradition.

Ceccarelli’s birthday had become a bit of a holiday in Willits, attended by everyone from the mayor and the fire department, to the local dog walker and his many four-legged charges. Well into her 100s, Ceccarelli would throw herself birthday parties, inviting the whole town to celebrate and dance with her. In recent years, as she slowed down, the town took over – organizing a yearly parade.

“I’m just so happy we could celebrate with her,” said Suzanne Picetti-Johnson, a longtime Willits resident who coordinated the events. “And then her time here was done.”

At 116 years and 16 days, Ceccarelli had lived through two world wars and two of the deadliest global pandemics. Theodore Roosevelt was president when she was born, in the year that Henry Ford introduced the Model T.

She had outlived two husbands, a daughter and three granddaughters. Born Edith Recagno, on 5 February 1908 to Italian immigrant parents, she was the first of seven siblings – raised in a house that her father built by hand. She graduated high school in 1927, and married her high school sweetheart, Elmer “Brick” Keenan, with whom she adopted a daughter, Laureen.

While Keenan worked as a typesetter for the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, the regional paper, the family moved to the larger city of Santa Rosa nearby. But they returned to Willits after Keenan’s retirement. She was remarried to Charles Ceccarelli, and the couple enjoyed five years together before he died.

“She was such a big part of this town,” Evelyn Persico, a cousin by marriage and one of Ceccarelli’s closest friends, told the Guardian.

Ceccarelli loved people, and she loved to dance, her friends and family said. She was known for taking walks around town – impeccably made up and dressed in a hat and gloves. She was also a fixture at community dances at the local senior centre.

“I danced with her when she was in her 100s, and I couldn’t keep up,” said her cousin Chuck Persico. “She sure did love to dance.”