At 116 years old, she has outlived generations of loved ones. But her whole town is family.

When Edith Ceccarelli was born in February 1908, Theodore Roosevelt was president, Oklahoma had just become the nation’s 46th state and women did not yet have the right to vote.

At 116, Ms. Ceccarelli is the oldest known person in the United States and the second oldest on Earth. It has lived through two world wars, the advent of the Ford Model T – and the two deadliest pandemics in American history.

For most of that time, she lived in one place: Willits, a village tucked in the redwood forests of California that was once known for logging and now is perhaps better known for Mrs. Ceccarelli.

At Willits City Hall, where a 100-foot redwood tree towers overhead, a gold photo of Ms. Ceccarelli sits in a display case. Last year, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors declared February 5 as a day to celebrate the county’s favorite daughter.

“When she hit her 100th birthday, the whole community was a little bit in awe, and she became a bit of a local celebrity,” said Mayor Saprina Rodriguez, who at 52 is less than half Ms. Ceccarelli’s age.

Nestled in a valley surrounded by forested peaks in rural Mendocino County, in California’s North Coast region, Willits thrived from its booming lumber industry when Ms. Ceccarelli was a girl. But that boom is long gone, and Willits remains a small working-class community of about 5,000 people.

Located about 30 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, Willits has never attracted the tourists who flock to coastal destinations like Mendocino and Fort Bragg, with their wineries and Instagrammable cottages perched on coastal bluffs, along with the for whale watching.

But none of those places have Ms. Ceccarelli.

On Sunday, Willits hosted her most treasured resident’s annual celebration, watching from the front porch of her home. It was raining, the start of another atmospheric river – as showers were called for most of Ms. Ceccarelli’s life – but no one at Willits was thinking of canceling the annual festivities.

A parade of gleaming police cruisers and fire trucks passed by. Then the garbage truck. Limousines decorated with wreaths, balloons and flowers followed, carrying residents who waved and sang to their beloved Edie.

“She’s a local icon,” said Suzanne Picetti-Johnson, a longtime Willits resident who donned a rain jacket and beanie and directed the SUV with “Happy Sweet 116!” scrawled on the back window. “She has always been nothing short of a delight, and we are thrilled to celebrate her for another year.”

On February 5, 1908, Edith Recagno was born by her aunt in a house in Willits that her father had built by hand. The home had no electricity or running water, so a hand-dug well provided the family with drinking water and, instead of a refrigerator, a cool place to hang milk and meat.

She was the first of seven children born to Agostino and Maria Recagno, who were Italian immigrants drawn to Mendocino County by opportunity. Willits, where bright green moss covers tree trunks and giant ferns spread along the banks of icy streams, was settled by pioneer ranchers in the 1850s as fortune seekers flocked to California during the Gold Rush.

But then big trees became big business here. Groves of ancient redwoods and other trees were cut down and sent south to help build the rapidly growing San Francisco. Ms. Ceccarelli’s father worked as a carpenter on the railroad extension to Willits, which in the early 1900s allowed Bay Area tourists to come and rest in the crisp mountain air of the Redwood Empire. For $2.50 a night, guests at the 100-room Willits Hotel enjoyed tennis courts, a bowling alley and a dining room known as the best north of San Francisco.

Growing up, Ms. Ceccarelli played basketball, tennis and the saxophone – her mother had to raise money to buy the instrument – ​​and loved to sing and dance. She recalled that her father, who opened a store in Willits in 1916, would chop firewood and take it home after work.

“He would sit with us after dinner and help us read,” Mrs. Ceccarelli once said wrote. “He only had a third grade education, but he was smart. I can still see the oil lamp on the table where we read.”

From there, Ms. Ceccarelli’s life unfolded like many others. She married her high school sweetheart, Elmer Keenan, when she was 25, and they moved to nearby Santa Rosa, where he got a job as a typesetter at The Press Democrat newspaper. The couple soon adopted a daughter. In 1971, after her husband retired, the couple returned to Willits.

Ms. Ceccarelli continued to age, but not everyone in her life was so lucky. Her husband died in 1984, after more than 50 years of marriage. Mrs. Ceccarelli remarried, and her second husband, Charles Ceccarelli, died in 1990. Her daughter died at age 64 in 2003. Ceccarelli has since outlived her six younger siblings, as well as her three granddaughters, who died in their 40s from the genetic condition.

“They’re all gone — gone for years and years,” said Evelyn Persico, 84, as she flipped through Mrs. Ceccarelli’s cursive black-and-white photo albums. Ms. Persico, who is married to Ms. Ceccarelli’s second cousin and lives on a ranch in Willits, is one of her few remaining relatives.

So, as her 100th birthday approached in 2008, Mrs. Ceccarelli put out a personal invitation to all Willits. Despite decades of changes, such as the 101 freeway cutting through Main Street and the growth of marijuana farms, Willits has remained a tight-knit community. The elegant Ms. Ceccarelli became known for never missing a dance at the senior center and for daily walks around town.

Dressed in a fuchsia suit and heels, she waltzed past more than 500 people who had come to celebrate her new centennial status, while the mayor placed a tiara on her gray hair.

Every year since then, Ms. Ceccarelli’s birthday has been celebrated with a party, luncheon or, in the Covid era, a parade, open to all Willits residents. Often wearing a colorful scarf and pearls, she imparted her wisdom on how to live a long life: “Have a few fingers of red wine with dinner and mind your own business.”

In other years, she regaled guests with stories of days gone by, about meeting the man who had lunch with Abraham Lincoln or hearing the bells at Willits ring on November 11, 1918, marking the end of World War I.

“I like the small town, you know more people,” Mrs. Ceccarelli said local newspaper just before her 107th birthday. “You go to a big city, you don’t know anyone.”

When her longtime dance partner and companion died, she again turned to Willits for support. She placed an ad in the local paper:

“I, Edith Ceccarelli, also called ‘Edie’ by her family and many friends, would like to continue dancing,” she wrote 2012. “Dance keeps your limbs strong. What’s better than holding a lovely lady in your arms and dancing a beautiful waltz or two steps together?

“Try it, you’ll love it,” she added with her phone number. She was then 104 years old.

Mrs. Ceccarelli lived alone until she was 107, then moved to a nursing home in Willits. She now lived an average of 37 years longer than American women. The only person known to be older than her is Maria Branyas Morera, who lives in Spain but was born in San Francisco 11 months before Ms. Ceccarelli.

The city has taken over planning her birthday parties, as her dementia has recently advanced, so she is not always aware of what is going on. On the morning of her party, she seemed content to know that everyone was there for her. She enjoyed the taste of her “116” decorated carrot cake.

“I just admire her,” said Ms. Persico, who greeted Ms. Ceccarelli with a kiss on the forehead that day. “I can’t believe this little Italian baby has such an amazing longevity record, coming from such a small town like us.”

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