As friends and fellow nursing home residents looked on, the world's oldest living person turned 115 Monday at the Western Convalescent Hospital in Los Angeles. Gertrude Baines, born April 6, 1894, in Shellman, Georgia, to parents who were born into slavery, enjoyed her cake and ice cream as children sang "Happy Birthday."
"She said she didn't care what kind of cake or ice cream we got her, that she would eat anything. She's a sweet lady," hospital administrator Emma Camanag tells PEOPLE, as several other well-wishers complimented the supercentarian and lauded her longevity.
During the course of her long life, Baines was married to Sam Conly, with whom, in 1909, she had a daughter, Annabelle — who as a child died of typhoid fever. One of Gertrude's earliest memories is of taking a horse and buggy to church with her mother, Amelia, and her father, Jordan Baines, who had been a judge. Before moving west, she lived in Connecticut and Ohio, where she was employed as a cafeteria worker. Until 10 years ago she lived by herself in California, before moving into the convalescent home.
These days, she's confined to a wheelchair and rests in her room surrounded by several letters of proclamation from county and city government as well as photos of Barack Obama, George Bush and Sen. Diane Feinstein and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others. All recognize Baines as the oldest person in her state, her country — and in the entire world, a milestone she achieved Jan. 2 after the death of a Portuguese woman, Maria de Jesus.
Likes sweets and baconNot one to make a big deal of her stature, Baines enjoys life's simple pleasures, such as extra crispy bacon and sweets, as well as daily viewings of "The Price Is Right" and "Jerry Springer."
Last fall, she cast her vote for Barack Obama in the general election. The only other time she voted was back in 1960, for President John F. Kennedy.
When she feels up to it, she attends Pastor Warren Smith’s church service at the hospital. "She hasn't been herself in recent weeks," says Smith. (Baines was recently hospitalized and treated for dehydration.) "But she enjoys the service and nods to the music." Pressed for her secret to longevity, Baines begs off the question. "She prefers not to have the title [of world's oldest]," says her nurse, Cynthia Thompson, who has looked after her for nine years and quotes Baines as saying, "Of all the people in the world, why do I have to be the one? I didn't ask for this."