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ETSU president declares date in honor of world's oldest person, campus alumna

August 26th, 2011 9:52 am by Staff and Wire Reports

A birthday party is planned at a north Georgia nursing home for Besse Cooper, who's listed as the world's oldest person.

Cooper marks her 115th birthday today in Monroe, Ga. Family members and a researcher from the Guinness Book of World Records will attend the ceremony. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Cooper will receive a plaque from the organization that determines the oldest person in the world.

Cooper was declared the world's oldest last January. In May, Guinness learned that Maria Gomes Valentin of Brazil was 48 days older. Valentin died June 21.

During his final State of the University Address today, East Tennessee State University President Paul E. Stanton proclaimed Aug. 26 as Besse Cooper Day.

Cooper graduated from what was then East Tennessee State Normal School, which opened in 1911 with the mission to train teachers. Becoming a teacher had been her dream, and the creation of the school by the Tennessee General Assembly opened the door for making that happen. She took a train from her home in Gray Station to Johnson City where she lived with an aunt. From there she rode a trolley car to campus.

After graduation, she taught at a school in Tiger Valley before moving to Georgia in 1918 to seek a better paying job. Though she has lived in Georgia ever since, her fondness for East Tennessee State Normal School remains. Her admiration for the normal school’s first president, Sidney G. Gilbreath, inspired her to name a son after him, and she wore her class ring for 92 years until the day it had to be cut off her finger to prevent any loss of circulation in her hand.
That ring is now on display in Stanton’s office at ETSU.

She has 12 grandchildren and more than a dozen great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Her husband, Luther, died in 1963.

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