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Illinois’ oldest resident dies at 111

Evelyn Margaret Ralst2007. | Allen Kaleta~For Pioneer Press

Evelyn Margaret Ralston, in 2007. | Allen Kaleta~For Pioneer Press

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When Evelyn Margaret Ralston’s niece would visit in recent months, names of family members would come up in conversation.

Ms. Ralston would mention that the relative they were talking about was younger than her.

“Everyone is younger than you are,” her niece, Elizabeth Ann P. Ralston, would counter.

Everyone in Illinois for sure. And nearly everyone anywhere.

Ms. Ralston, who lived in three centuries, was the state’s oldest woman at 111, according to the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group, which tracks people with verifiable birth dates.

She also was listed as the 17th oldest person in the U.S. —and the 52nd oldest worldwide.

Ms. Ralston, a secretary-stenographer who lived in Evanston since 1953, died in her sleep Wednesday.

Her longevity allowed her a rare bragging point: She was a Cubs fan who actually was alive when the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908.

“I always watched the Cubs,” Ms. Ralston told NBC’s Lester Holt when he interviewed her for the “Today Show” in 2008. “We didn’t live far from [Wrigley Field when I was growing up. Later,] I’d watch them on television.”

When Holt asked her at the time about the secret to her longevity, Ms. Ralston said she didn’t really know.

“I just grew up well,” she told him. “I haven’t done anything special. ”

She got the question so much, though, she later put some thought into it and began telling people it was because she never married or had children, her niece said.

Ms. Ralston’s long life was the subject of study by researchers. She worked with Boston University Medical Center’s New England Centenarian Study, a National Institute of Health-funded project probing longevity.

Born Oct. 17, 1899, in her family’s Chicago home, Ms. Ralston was the third child of Peter W. Ralston, a land surveyor, and Hannah Jane McAffee, a housewife.

When she was born, Chicago streets were not paved and women had a life expectancy of about 48 years. She recalled horses pulled peddler wagons down the street selling coffee, strawberries, fish, as well as cups and dishes. Rag collectors also would call out for discarded iron.

During the Great Depression, 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 she heard others touting: IBM, Commonwealth Edison, AT&T and other well-known companies.

As the stocks gained in value and split over the decades, Ralston was able to secure the core of her retirement savings.

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

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