NORTH LIMA (AP) -- No citizen is more senior than 113-year-old Charlotte Benkner. Not in the country. Not on the planet. Benkner, who became the world's oldest person this week, will celebrate her 114th birthday Sunday with a giant cake and party at the northeast Ohio retirement home where she lives with her 99-year-old sister.
The tiny woman sat with her hands folded in her lap Friday in front of a room filled with reporters and middle school students who gathered for an early celebration. ``I'm overwhelmed that so many people came out for my birthday,'' Benkner said in a quiet, gravelly voice. ``It's only another birthday.''
Benkner, who can't see well because of glaucoma, said the constant flashing of cameras looked like lightning to her. She downplayed the significance of being the world's oldest person. ``I'm just a person like anybody else,'' she said. Benkner became the world's oldest person upon the death Thursday of Mitoyo Kawate of Japan, at 114, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Benkner had her wispy white hair done earlier Friday, just as she does every week. She still takes walks three times a day and goes to church every Sunday. Her physician, Dr. Charles Wilkins, said her organs are as healthy as most 80-year-olds'. He said she has been blessed by genetics and a sharp mind that shows no traces of Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
Her outlook on life is also a key to her longevity, Wilkins said. ``She has belief and faith and a love of life. It's unbelievable,'' Wilkins said. Benkner rooms with her sister, Matilda ``Tillie'' O'Hare, at the Glenellen Senior Suites and Villas-Lakeside retirement home about 65 miles southeast of Cleveland.
The sisters spend nearly every moment together, but O'Hare is in the hospital recovering from hip surgery. ``I need her. She does something for my existence,'' Benkner said. ``I can't even laugh because she isn't here.'' The sisters are the only survivors of 11 siblings. Benkner is the second oldest, O'Hare the youngest.
Longevity runs in the family. Their mother died six weeks before her 100th birthday, their father at 92 and brother George at 98. Benkner and her husband Karl were married 56 years. He died in 1967 at age 82. Benkner still wears her wedding band and says she misses her husband. ``He put it there. It will stay there until I go,'' she said.
Students from Boardman Center Middle School brought her dozens of cards and sang ``Happy Birthday.'' She had trouble hearing and her sister's daughter-in-law, Mary O'Hare, would speak loudly into Benkner's left ear to repeat questions from reporters. O'Hare said she has learned a lot about life from Benkner, who has taught her patience.
Benkner and her husband had no children, but she is often visited by O'Hare and her family. Benkner's great-great nephew, Kevin O'Hare, 13, said he hopes he can live for more than a century ``so I can get this much attention.'' Benkner's life had a shaky start. She was born premature Nov. 16, 1889, in Germany, and was such a fragile infant she had to be carried around on a pillow. She moved at age 6 with her family to New York, where they ran The Albert Hotel in Peekskill.
The world's oldest person with an authenticated birth record was Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at age 122, according to Guinness. Benkner was asked several times what her secret is to a long life. ``Secret? There is no secret. I just live each day the way the Lord gives it to me,'' she said.