Oldest American Bequeaths Estate Gift to The Salvation Army Western Division

Aug 24, 2022

Thelma Sutcliffe was 11 years old, living on her family’s farm in Benson, when The Salvation Army’s “doughnut lassies,” as they were known, landed in France in the summer of 1917 and began frying up tasty treats for the soldiers on the front lines.

More than 100 years later, when she died in January at age 115 years and 108 days, Sutcliffe was the oldest living person in America.

She had lived through every major historical event of the past century — including two world wars, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, 20 American presidents, the women’s suffrage movement, the Great Depression and Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic solo flight — in addition to surviving two battles with cancer.

According to her longtime friend Luella “Lou” Mason, Sutcliffe attributed her long life and her mental acuity to the fact that she never smoked, didn’t have children and refused to worry about anything. Married at 17, Sutcliffe and her husband, Bill — who died in the early 1970s — supported a number of charitable organizations, including The Salvation Army.

During Sutcliffe’s lifetime, The Salvation Army grew into an international nonprofit that now helps 30 million Americans annually and serves in 131 countries. The Salvation Army Western Division, headquartered here in Omaha, recently received a generous gift from Sutcliffe’s estate.

“She must have been an amazingly strong woman,” said Jenny Herstein, senior director of philanthropy for The Salvation Army. “I wish we had been able to meet her, but we are profoundly grateful for her gift to The Salvation Army. Her generosity is a testament to a life well-lived.”

For more information about how to support The Salvation Army through an estate gift or to learn more about other planned giving opportunities, please visit our planned giving website or contact Jenny Herstein, senior director of philanthropy, at 402-898-6004 or Jenny.Herstein@usc.salvationarmy.org.

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