It might be harder than you think to find the oldest person in town.
Local governments don’t formally track the data, and voting records are often manually entered, and can contain errors. So when a listener named Sally asked our Curious Louis project to find the oldest person in St. Louis, we started looking.
After calls to county election boards and senior service nonprofits came up short, employees in the office of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay introduced us to someone who might just be the winner: 109-year-old Lucy Hamm.
Even better, she invited us to her birthday party.
On a crisp Saturday afternoon, a friend wheeled Hamm through the hallway of Brooking Park, an assisted living facility in Chesterfield, to a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”
“Happy birthday to me!” Hamm beamed, resplendent in a blinking tiara and bright red lipstick.
Hamm was known as the “sheriff” of Tower Grove Manor before she moved to Chesterfield. There were balloons, a yellow cake, and even a six-pack of her favorite Schlafly beer, which she still enjoys. Her grandson took her to the brewery when it first opened, and she has been a loyal fan ever since.
“I’m amazed at myself. I never would have thought I would have been the oldest one here,” Hamm said, before she was presented with a proclamation from the mayor of Chesterfield and a tray of sugar cookies that read “LUCY IS 109!”
Hamm was born Jan. 30, 1908. That's the same year Henry Ford introduced the Model T, and the Cubs won the World Series before their century-plus dry spell.
She grew up in the river town of Cairo, Illinois, — “down south, between where the rivers come together,” she explained.
Hamm married a barber and moved to St. Louis. She worked sewing burial shrouds for her sister, who was an undertaker. Later, Hamm worked in a shoe factory, and taught herself how to be a bookkeeper.
“She is a very hardworking person, she worked until she was 72,” said her daughter-in-law, Janice Hamm. “During the war she worked at a small arms making ammunition for soldiers.”
Lucy Hamm had two children, and presides as matriarch over seven grandkids, 11 great-grand children, and a 3-year-old great-great-grandson.
“People used to ask her how come she lived so long. And she’d say I drink a beer every day except Sunday. Then it went from that — she said that didn’t sound too good — to 'I ate an apple a day, ' but then it got to be hard work,” Janice Hamm said.
She is pretty sure her mother-in-law is the oldest person in the St. Louis area.
But if you know someone who’s 110, make sure to give us a call.
Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.
This project is part of our collaborative reporting project Curious Louis. What do you wonder about St. Louis or its people that you would like St. Louis Public Radio to investigate? Ask your question in the form below. (If the form doesn't load, find it here.)