By Mary Giorgio
Famous Hoosiers: On August 13th, 2007, a Japanese woman by the name of Yone Minagawa passed away peacefully in her sleep. Mrs. Minagawa had already outlived her husband and five of her six children and, at the tender age of 114, her passing was not exactly a surprise.
Halfway across the world, in Shelbyville, Indiana, the death was cause for celebration. At 114, Hoosier Edna Parker was now the oldest person in the world.
Edna Ruth Parker was born Edna Ruth Scott on a farm in Shelby County in 1893 and was raised on a typical, meat-and-potatoes-and-corn-and-meat farm diet. After finishing high school, Parker obtained a teaching certificate from Franklin College and found employment as a teacher in a two-room schoolhouse in Smithland. With such humble beginnings, who imagined she’d become of the state’s famous Hoosiers?
In her early twenties, she married her neighbor Earl Parker and retired at the age of 28 to tend to her family and the farm. The couple had two sons, Clifford, and Earl Jr., and lived a relatively ordinary life on the farm.
After the children moved out, Earl passed in 1938 when Edna was 45. She remained on the farm until 1993, when, at 100 years old, she briefly moved in with her son Clifford before finally settling in at the Heritage House Convalescent Center, a Shelbyville retirement community.
Edna’s 100th birthday was a big deal to her friends and family, as well as the local community at large. By 109, she was recognized in a number of papers throughout Indiana and by 113, she was the fourth oldest person in the United States and had received a personal letter from President George W. Bush.
The following year, Edna Parker became the oldest living person in the United States, warranting both another letter from the White House and an in-person visit from state governor Mitch Daniels. During the visit, Governor Daniels presented Parker with the “Sagamore of the Wabash” award.
Organizers also took this opportunity to have Parker meet with another supercentenarian from Indiana, a 113-year-old Muncie resident named Bertha Fry. At a combined 227 years of age, this meeting broke the Guinness world record for the “highest aggregate age of two people meeting each other.”
Parker crammed a lot into her final years at the nursing home, including handling the attention as one of Indiana’s famous Hoosiers. Between her hobbies of reading the newspaper and reciting poetry, she found time to take part in scientific studies and documentary films and was awarded the keys to the city by Shelbyville’s mayor. For a time, she shared space in the nursing home with Sandy Allen, the tallest woman in the world.
She outlived Sandy, both of her sons and Yone Minagawa, but relinquished her ‘oldest living woman’ crown on November 26, 2008, passing away at 115 years-old (and 220 days). She was the 11th longest-living American on record, the 10th longest-living American female and the 9th longest living person born on American soil.
Famous Hoosiers: Good going, Edna!