Metro

113-year-old Worcester woman is now oldest person in US

Goldie Michelson posed in 2008 in front of the Clark University theater that bears her name.
Clark University
Goldie Michelson posed in 2008 in front of the Clark University theater that bears her name.

Goldie Michelson’s great passion is theater, so when she and her husband built a little stone house in Worcester in 1937, they put a stage in their basement.

There, she taught neighborhood children to act. She went on to produce and direct plays all over the city, including at her alma mater, Clark University, where a theater now bears her name.

Today, at 113 years old, Michelson has a new leading role: She is the oldest person in the United States. She’s also the 11th-oldest in the world, according to the World Supercentarian Ranking List, published daily by Gerontology Research Group.

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Michelson, born in Russia in 1902, lay claim to the honor when 116-year-old Susannah Mushatt Jones died in New York last week.

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“It’s quite amazing, I have to say,” her daughter, Renee Minsky, 85, said Tuesday by telephone from her home in Maine.

Michelson’s vision and hearing are failing, and she was unavailable for an interview. But she gets up and dressed every day, Minsky said, and still has a good appetite.

“She’s pretty good, health-wise,” she said. “She loves hot dogs, corn on the cob, and lobster.”

In a 2012 interview with Clark Magazine , Michelson attributed her longevity to her active lifestyle.

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“I never used a car if I could walk,” she said. “One of the great joys of life was when I sold my car.”

Michelson, who still lives at the little stone house, now walks with a caregiver.

“She won’t use a walker, because she says they’re for old people,” Minsky said with a laugh.

Michelson rarely spoke of getting older, but did play her grand piano every morning to exercise her fingers.

“She used to play the same piece,” Minsky said. “One time she said, ‘Well, if I had known I would live this long, I would have learned another.’ ”

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At 116 years and 170 days, Emma Morano-Martinuzzi of Italy was believed on Tuesday to be the world’s oldest person.

And Marie-Josephine Gaudette, who is 114, was born in New Hampshire and now lives in Italy.

Born Aug. 8, 1902, Goldie Corash was just 2 years old when she arrived in Worcester with her mother and two brothers, joining their father, who was already in the United States. He ran a dry goods store, and the close-knit Jewish family quickly assimilated. She would go on to teach religious education and direct plays at a synagogue.

To her neighbors and friends, her status as the oldest of nearly 324 million Americans is incredible.

“To think that Teddy Roosevelt was president when she was born, and that she was an adult in the 1920s,” said state Representative John Mahoney, her neighbor. “She would have been in high school during World War I . . . and she lives next door to me.”

She is well-known for her love of reading, classical music, and chocolate, and for chatting with kids in the neighborhood, he recalled. “She kept a big bowl of candy for them,” said Mahoney, 51.

In her younger days, Michelson sometimes carried a big stick on her daily walks, though she was barely 5 feet tall.

“She was so tiny the stick looked bigger than her,” said neighbor Helen Aronowitz, 55. “It was wonderful to see her to be so self-sufficient. She was the best kind of neighbor. She only wishes you well.”

Her warmth and wit are matched only by her intellect, those who know her said.

After attending Classical High School in Worcester, she graduated from Pembroke College, now part of Brown University, in 1924, and got a job as a social worker in Worcester.

After marrying David Michelson and having a child, she enrolled at Clark to pursue a master’s degree in sociology.

“She was very interested in the social strata of Worcester,” said Tom Dolan, a retired senior vice president of Clark and her friend for 50 years. She graduated in 1936, the only woman and the top-ranked student in the class, Dolan said.

“She really is a renaissance woman,” said Dolan, 81.

Michelson and her husband were major donors to Clark’s theater program. In 2008, the Michelson Theater was dedicated on campus. They also established a campus theater fund.

Andy Rosen of the Globe Staff contributed to this story. Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@globe.com.