Gerontology Wiki
Irene Dunham
Irene Dunham
Dunham (aged 113) in August 2021
Birth: 16 December 1907
Bath, Michigan, USA
Death: 1 May 2022
Lansing, Michigan, USA
Age: 114 years, 136 days
Country: United StatesUSA

Irene Blanche Dunham (née Babcock; 16 December 1907 – 1 May 2022) was an American supercentenarian who was the oldest known person living in the US state of Michigan at the time of her death. She was also believed to be the last known survivor of the 1927 Bath School Bombing, having not attended school on the day of the disaster. Dunham's age is validated by the Gerontology Research Group (GRG).

Early Life

Irene Dunham was born as Irene Blanche Babcock in Clinton County, Michigan, on 16 December 1907 to Duane and Mabel (Whitney) Babcock. She grew up on a farm located four miles from Bath, Michigan. She was the eldest of either eight or nine children (sources differ). She began attending Bath Consolidated School in seventh grade.

Bath School Bombing

On 18 May 1927, Dunham, then aged 19, took a day off school due to a sore throat. That day, school board trustee Andrew Kehoe had planted 1000lbs of dynamite in the basement of the building, which exploded, killing 38 schoolchildren and six adults, and injured at least 58 other people. After the explosion that morning, he parked his truck, loaded with more explosives, in front of what was left of the building. He detonated the vehicle, killing himself, the school superintendent, two adults, and a child.

Bath Consolidated School after the bombing

Dunham and her mother heard the explosion, then got in their car and drove to see what it was. They arrived to find the north wing of the school in a pile of rubble. Several of Dunham's siblings were in the school at the time of the explosion. Her sister Eva jumped out of a first-floor window with some classmates to escape, and her brother, Lloyd, lost a finger in the explosion.

Shortly after the bombing, she married Laurits Dunham. The ceremony had been planned before the attack. She continued with school later that year, with classes being held in various places in the town, such as a drug store. She eventually received her diploma 50 years later when Bath High School’s 1977 graduating class invited the 1927 senior class to their ceremony.

Later Life

Dunham's husband Laurits died in 1972. They had a daughter Lorraine and two sons, Laurits Jr. (deceased 2013) and Bruce. She later remarried to a Mr. Freeman. Dunham had nine grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, and 23 great-great-grandchildren. She survived a bout of colon cancer, surprising her doctors.

Dunham only stopped driving when she was 106. In June 2020, at the age of 112, she moved into an assisted living facility in Lansing, Michigan, having previously lived in the same house for 85 years.

Dunham's brother, George Babcock (1 August 1919 – 24 September 2021), lived to the age of 102 and was awarded with the French Legion of Honour in November 2020 for his service in France during World War II.

Between January and March 2021, Dunham got vaccinated against Covid-19, making her one of the oldest people to receive the vaccine. Following the death of Ellen Goodwill on 2 March 2021, she became the oldest living person in Michigan. Dunham celebrated her 114th birthday on 16 December 2021.

Dunham died in Lansing, Michigan, USA on 1 May 2022 at the age of 114 years, 136 days. At the time of her death, she was the third-oldest living validated person in the United States, after Bessie Hendricks and Mila Mangold, the fourth-oldest living validated American-born person, after Maria Branyas Morera, Hendricks, and Mangold, and the ninth-oldest validated living person in the world. Following her death, Bonita Gibson became the oldest known person living in the U.S. state of Michigan.