Ask Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper what's been the greatest technological advance in her lifetime, and she'll tell you it's the automobile. A lot of other people might have chosen television, the Internet or even the cell phone. But Van Andel-Schipper has a longer perspective than most. Born in the village of Smilde in the eastern part of the Netherlands in 1890, she is, at 114, the oldest person in the world so she's seen her share of technological marvels. Though she's watched how cars have changed the world, she never learned to drive herself, instead remaining loyal to her bicycle which helped her stay fit. "People keep asking me how I have managed to reach this age and still be healthy," she recently told the newspaper Hoogeveensche Courant. "The answer is, I have never smoked or drunk too much alcohol. I eat well and just keep breathing."
Though Van Andel-Schipper loves to talk, she hasn't been chatting to the press lately due to a mild bladder infection. "We're sure she will bounce back shortly," says Johan Beijering, director of the retirement home in the northern Dutch town of Hoogeveen where Van Andel-Schipper has lived for the past eight years.
Before moving to the home, Van Andel-Schipper lived alone and made sure her diet was right. "She was a good cook," Beijering says, "and would take the time and effort to prepare healthy meals. She's very partial to the traditional Dutch raw herring." Her other great passions in life are soccer she's an ardent fan of the Amsterdam club Ajax and royalty. She says one of the highlights of her life came in 2001, when she was invited to tea with Queen Beatrix. "I considered it a great honor," Van Andel-Schipper told the Courant. "She was really nice. I let her ask the questions. I thought that would be best."
Although her sight is failing and she's become a little wobbly on her feet, the former needlework instructor remains mentally alert and socially engaged. "She's really interested in what's going on in the world and listens to the news on the radio most days," Beijering says.
Longevity didn't seem to be in the cards when Van Andel-Schipper was young, though. She was sickly and underweight as a child, and her parents were so concerned about her health that they kept her out of school; her father, the headmaster of the local primary school, taught her at home. Despite the shaky start, Van Andel-Schipper has enjoyed robust health ever since. She even sailed through a mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 100. "Her standard reply whenever anything goes wrong is, 'There's no point in moaning,'" says Beijering. "She's a great believer in the power of positive thinking."