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114-year-old Omahan is now oldest living American, but she doesn't care
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114-year-old Omahan is now oldest living American, but she doesn't care

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Take a look at a few of the National landmarks in Nebraska.

Omahan Thelma Sutcliffe doesn't give a hoot about being America's oldest living person, but she bristles at the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"She's just looking forward to the day that I can finally eat with her in the dining room again," said Luella "Lou" Mason, a longtime friend. "She tells me, 'I know we have to go by the rules, but I don't like it.'"

Thelma Sutcliffe

Thelma Sutcliffe is shown on Oct. 1, 2018, her 112th birthday, at Omaha's Brighton Gardens senior living center. Sutcliffe became the nation's oldest living person and seventh-oldest in the world on April 17 when Hester Ford, a 115-year-old woman, died in North Carolina. 

Sutcliffe, born Oct. 1, 1906, and Mason became friends while living at Elmwood Tower near 52nd and Leavenworth streets. They have remained close since Thelma moved in 2017 to Brighton Gardens senior living center near 93rd Street and Western Avenue. 

The Gerontology Research Group said Sutcliffe became the nation's oldest living person and seventh-oldest in the world on April 17 when Hester Ford, a 115-year-old woman, died in North Carolina. The second-oldest American is Maria Branas Morera, who was born in California on March 4, 1907. She now lives in Spain. 

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"I'm happy (Brighton Gardens) is keeping things locked down because it's keeping everyone healthy, but Thelma is as determined as ever to do what she wants to do," Mason said. "She asks me every time I visit, 'Are you going to eat with me today?' It breaks my heart that I can't."

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Until visitors are allowed in the dining room, Thelma is taking all her meals in her room. Mason, who has Sutcliffe's power of attorney, calls the senior living center 24 hours ahead of time to schedule visits. Sutcliffe's hearing and sight are fading, Mason said, but her mind is still "very sharp." 

Sutcliffe received her COVID shots at the earliest opportunity, Mason said. Testing her for the coronavirus, however, proved to be a non-starter.  

"They went in to test her for COVID and they told her that I had approved the test," Mason said. "She looked at (the swab) and looked up at the person holding it and said, 'You're not going to be sticking that thing up my nose. You can tell Lou to stick it up hers.'"

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At 114 years of age and 209 days as of Wednesday, Sutcliffe has lived through two World Wars, the 1918 flu pandemic and countless other calamities. Married in 1924, her husband, Bill, died in the 1970s. The couple had no children. A 93-year-old nephew living in Arizona typically visits her on her birthday. 

Mason said Sutcliffe brushes off talk about her longevity, including her status as the nation's oldest person. She is "very particular about her appearance," Mason said, and doesn't allow photos unless everything is just right. 

"As far as her age, she doesn't believe in worrying at all," Mason said. "She always says, 'What good does it do to worry?' I think that's how you live to be 114 years old."

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The cost of COVID: Remembering lives lost in Southeast Nebraska

They were teachers and farmers and factory workers and homemakers. They played the piano, fixed old cars, danced to the Beach Boys, cuddled their grandchildren.

They loved to ice fish, gab with friends, read, run marathons, bowl, wander antique stores.

They were our co-workers and neighbors and friends. Our parents. Our spouses.

They all have one thing in common. They died from COVID-19, a virus that arrived in Nebraska in March 2020, claiming its first life in Lancaster County a month later.

These stories represent a fraction of the lives lost in Southeast Nebraska, but they are our way of paying respect to each and every one.

We'd like to share the stories of others from Southeast Nebraska who have lost their lives to COVID-19. If you would like to have your loved one added to our online tribute, please email your contact information to: citydesk@journalstar.com

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Alan Burr, 73, of Humboldt died on Jan. 13 of complications from COVID-19. Teacher, artist, beloved brother, favorite uncle. “He did what he wanted, when he wanted to.”

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Jack Fields, 87, died of COVID-19 on Dec. 8. He spent his career fixing copy machines and making friends and creating memories for his children and grandchildren.

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Phyllis "Phyl" Maly, 87, died of COVID-19 on Jan. 14. She was an artist, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and a woman at home in her own skin.

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Beth Smith, 64, died of complications of COVID-19 on Jan. 20. The redheaded woman loved music and parties and adventure and was a loyal friend, sister, aunt and partner.

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Lillian "Lil" Gibson, 61, died of COVID-19 on Nov. 2. The dialysis nurse and marathon runner was small but mighty with a big smile and warm personality.

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Kevin Hopper, 60, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 19. The easygoing Lincoln native and computer expert loved Star Trek and Star Wars and all things sci-fi and, most of all, his family.

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Randy Brinkman, 62, of Lincoln died of COVID-19 on Nov. 30. He loved his family, old cars, working hard and writing love poems to his wife.

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Hope McGraw, a 22-year-old crew leader at a York restaurant, died of COVID-19 in January. A fundraiser over a week later raised nearly $1,200 to help her family cover bills.

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Julie Koch: She taught us kids to be independent, strong, courteous, respectful and kind. Her pragmatic outlook on life earned her many friends wherever she was living or working. She rarely showed a temper, seeming to always take life in stride.

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Wanda Darlene Hedges was a strong woman who raised her family on a farm near Bennet. Sometimes she worked at a nearby grocery store, but she was mostly a full-time mother.

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Anna Sales, 69, died of COVID-19 on Nov. 6; four days later her husband Chuck Sales, 88, also died of the virus. The couple loved to bowl, travel, serve their church and listen to Elvis music.

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Raymond Irvin 'Irv' Cidlik, 78, died Oct. 23 from COVID-19. He was a veteran, farmer, father and grandfather who loved making people laugh.

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Orva Samuelson, 95, died of COVID-19 on May 22. She and her late husband loved to dance and play cards and after she raised her daughter she became an Avon lady and turned customers into friends.

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Tam Mai, 80, died of COVID-19 last May. The man from Vietnam was a protective big brother and a devoted son and grandfather who taught his grandchildren to study hard and be respectful.

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Nadene Stull, 94, died Dec. 12 from complications of COVID-19. She lived a full life as a bookkeeper and mother of three sons who later went on to become a lay minister in the Methodist church.

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Bryan Wintz, 46, died of COVID-19 on Oct. 4. The longtime LES worker loved to tease his only daughter, go ice fishing and work on projects around the house he built with his high school sweetheart, Jill.

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Janet Ann Jodais, a caring mother known for her love of reading, crafting and church life, died Oct. 8 of COVID-19 in Lincoln at age 83.

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Albert "Butch" Butts, 79, died on Feb. 14 of complications of COVID-19. He was a hard worker and a kind and generous man who left behind a big family to mourn his passing.

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This spring, the Journal Star set out to honor the lives of those lost to COVID-19. The families were eager to share the stories of those they loved.

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Betty Srb, a longtime nurse known for her caring and loving personality, died of COVID-19 at a Lincoln nursing home last November at age 95.

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