DEWITT TOWNSHIP — Irene Dunham, Michigan's oldest living resident and the oldest surviving student who attended the Bath Consolidated School before it was bombed in 1927, has died.
Dunham, 114 and a longtime Lansing resident, died Sunday, her son Bruce Dunham confirmed Monday.
Though her mind was sharp, "her body just finally gave up," he said.
She was the 10th-oldest person in the world and the third-oldest in the U.S., according to records from the Gerontology Research Group, a group of researchers that verifies and tracks "supercentenarians."
"To say she had an amazing life would be an understatement," Bruce Dunham said. "She’s been through so much."
'A walking history book'
His mother was "a walking history book," Bruce Dunham said.
Born Irene Babcock, she grew up on a 141-acre family farm located about 4 miles from Bath with her parents and eight younger siblings. Her father grew rye and corn.
During the influenza pandemic of 1918, she fell ill but recovered.
Then in 1927, at age 19, a sore throat kept Irene Dunham home from classes at Bath Consolidated School the day Andrew Kehoe blew it up with explosives he had planted in the building.
The 1,000 pounds of dynamite Kehoe placed in the basement of the building on May 18, 1927, killed 38 classmates and six adults. Dozens of others were injured, including Irene Dunham's brother. Kehoe died by his own hand in a separate explosion.
The graduation ceremony for the class of 1927 didn’t happen that year. Irene Dunham got her diploma 50 years later when Bath High School’s 1977 graduating class invited the 1927 graduates to their ceremony.
Later in life, when Irene Dunham got colon cancer, doctors believed it would kill her, but she survived.
She lived through the Great Depression, both world wars and two pandemics.
Her husband Laurits Dunham died in 1972. Until two years ago, Irene Dunham paid her own bills and taxes and tended to her own garden.
Bruce Dunham said she often told him the secret to a long life was "hard work."
"Then she would add, 'outdoors in the garden,'" he said. "When I was a kid and my friends came over she'd put them to work."
Irene Dunham would instruct them to rake leaves, pull weeds and help in the yard, he said.
"She kept the dandelions out of her yard by hand," Bruce Dunham said.
Setting 'quite an example'
Until 2020 Dunham lived in the Lansing home where she raised her family and resided for more than eight decades.
She moved to Gunnisonville Meadows Senior Assisted Living in DeWitt Township.
Irene Dunham set "quite an example for people," daughter-in-law Bonnie Dunham said.
"Through hard times she persevered and her faith helped carry her through those times, and she had many," she said. "She managed to get through them and was positive."
"I used to tell her she was a tough old bird and she laughed," Bruce Dunham said. "She liked being called that."
Her last surviving brother, George Babcock, a World War II veteran, died last fall. He was 102.
Five years ago, Irene Dunham recounted the aftermath of the school bombing in Bath for a State Journal reporter, saying at the time, "I wish I could really tell you, dear, how awful it was."
Grandson Scott Rees, 43, said he was glad she lived long enough to celebrate the birth of her great-great-great-granddaughter, September Rambo, born April 27.
"I think two words that really come to mind when I think about her are resilience and joy," he said. "She’s had a good long life, a happy life but it was a really challenging one as well, seeing all that she has."
"I've called her every day for 20 years to check on her," Bruce Dunham said. "Now it's going to be odd. It's like a hole in your life, you know?"
Contact Rachel Greco at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ .
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Lansing's Irene Dunham, Michigan's oldest resident, dies at age 114