The “fastest, tallest, biggest, smallest” (and so on) spotlight of Guinness World Records is shining this week on a one-story brick nursing facility on Grand Island, home of the oldest man on Earth.
Unlike record holders who bake the biggest birthday cake or spin the most hula hoops, Salustiano Sanchez-Blazquez did not win his title with one splashy stunt. It has taken him 112 years to earn it.
Sanchez-Blazquez ascended to the top of the Guinness list following the death of 116-year-old Jiroemon Kimura of Japan on June 12.
The distinction of oldest known living male is important. The oldest known living woman is 115-year-old Misao Okawa from Japan, and the Gerontology Research Group, considered an authority on validating “supercentenarians,” persons 110 years old or older, lists a total of 24 people, all female, who are older than Sanchez-Blazquez. And the next 24 oldest people after him are also female.
According to Guinness, records show that Sanchez-Blazquez was born in the Spanish village of El Tejado de Bejar on June 8, 1901. For historical context, that was three months before President William McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo and almost 11 years before the RMS Titanic sank in April 1912.
Sanchez-Blazquez was 17 when World War I ended and he, an older brother and some friends left Spain for Cuba, where they worked in the sugar cane fields.
Records show he came to the United States through Ellis Island in August 1920, eventually finding his way to Lynch, Ky., where he was hired as a coal miner.
Continuing to follow jobs in America’s booming industrial economy, he later moved to Western New York, where he worked in construction and the steel industry.
He and his wife, Pearl, were married for 54 years before her death in 1988. He was 87 years old by then, and after the loss of his wife, he moved in with his daughter, Irene Johnson, 69, of Grand Island. Johnson told the Associated Press that her father stayed with her until 2007, when he had to move to a nearby nursing home.
She also said he was modest about his new fame, and the family has declined interview requests.
“He says ‘I’m an old man and let’s leave it at that,’ ” Johnson told the AP.
After it was reported that Sanchez-Blazquez attributed his good health to eating a banana and six Anacin tablets every day, a commenter posted on the Guinness site, “In the past 24 hours, 64,138,242 Google searches for Anacin.”
The joke reflects the interest every individual has in reaching a good old age, and, while Sanchez-Blazquez now holds the male record, he has a lot of company. In Erie and Niagara counties, the 2010 U.S. Census counted 250 people who were 100 years old or older, among more than 53,000 nationally. Most of them are women.
That could explain why, according to Guinness, Sanchez-Blazquez “does not feel he has accomplished anything special because he happens to be living longer than other men.”
His life, in fact, looks quite normal. He left school at age 10, and had a talent as a young man for playing a Spanish wind instrument known as the dulzania. He goes by the nickname “Shorty” and likes doing crossword puzzles and playing gin rummy.
Sanchez-Blazquez also has a son, John, who is 76, and seven grandchildren, 15 great-granchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.
And he has more than a decade to go before he can set another record. Jeanne Louise Calment of France lived to be 122 years, 164 days old, the oldest age ever achieved and verified for any human being.