The oldest person in the United States is Kean University alumna Adele Henderson Dunlap. The 113-year-old graduated in 1923 from Kean’s predecessor, Newark Normal School, with a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education.
Dunlap was born in Newark on December 12, 1902, 18 years before women got the right to vote. At a time when women were fighting for civil rights and opportunity, including access to education at all levels, she pursued higher education and taught third grade for five years in Kearny before settling down as a wife and mother. Although she gives new meaning to #KeanPride, Dunlap dismisses her notoriety.
“I haven’t done anything special,” she said during a recent visit from Kean students and Director of Alumni Relations Stella Maher to the New Jersey care center where she lives.
Maher presented Dunlap with Kean swag – a blanket, sweatshirt, hat, miniature clock tower and an alumni medallion. Dunlap was also given a letter of recognition from the Kean University Alumni Association, which read in part, “Warmest congratulations to you on capturing a singular title that is reserved for the remarkable person in the United States who has lived the longest and has witnessed more history than anyone – oldest American. It is with abiding respect that we honor you.”
It is believed that there are only a few hundred supercentenarians, people who are at least 110 years old, in the world. How Dunlap achieved that status is a mystery to her 86-year-old son Earl. He says she smoked cigarettes until his father’s heart attack, when she and her husband both kicked the habit. In her younger years, Earl Dunlap says she ate whatever she wanted and rarely exercised.
“She didn’t really work at becoming the oldest American,” he said. "It just happened."
That it happened to a Kean alumna gives the University – itself a supercentenarian at 161 years old – reason to celebrate Dunlap's milestone longevity and pioneering past as a testament to an extraordinary life.