- Full name: Heleen “Leny” Barbara Maria Mackenbach
- Lifespan: 29.12.1912 – 03.12.2023
- Age: 110 years, 339 days
- Birthplace: Rotterdam, South Holland, Netherlands
- Last residence: Rotterdam, South Holland, Netherlands
- Application date: 15.09.2023
- Validation date: 18.11.2023
- Validation source: Gert Jan Kuiper/Jair van Dijk/Paul Verspeek
Heleen “Leny” Mackenbach was born in Rotterdam, South Holland, Netherlands on 29 December 1912. The Mackenbach family initially consisted of father, working in the police, mother and five children: two girls and three boys. Heleen was the eldest, she was born on December 29, 1912. Brother Jan, with whom she played a lot, died when he was two. Her brother John also died young and mother followed. There were still four of them when they became residents at the Van Bijnkershoekweg in Rotterdam-Schiebroek in 1959. Brother Ben died in 1963.
Why did those two elderly sisters still live with their father? Why had the boys in the family died so early? The answer lies in the disease hemophilia, a condition in which the blood does not clot sufficiently. The three Mackenbach brothers suffered from constant internal bleeding and were in and out of hospitals. Hemophilia dominated the life of this Rotterdam family. Women carry the gene, men get it. Diny and Heleen, or ‘Leny’, as she was affectionately called, had nothing to fear themselves, but they looked to the future. The sisters were devout Catholics and getting married and having children was automatically on the agenda. But that created an immense problem here: the hated hemophilia would be passed on. A marriage without children was not an option because of religion, so the sisters made a rigorous decision: they would never marry. They had experienced too much misery with hemophilia, a disease that at that time could not yet be effectively combated. First they stayed with their father and after his death the sisters were condemned to each other. Diny was clearly the caring type, while Heleen was not born for housework. She never cooked, that was the job of her younger sister, on whom she became dependent.
Heleen Mackenbach was a teacher at the Gerardus Majella school in Rotterdam-Schiebroek. The school was first only for boys, later it became the merged Fatima school for boys and girls. ‘Miss Leny’ was known as strict but extremely friendly and loved children. Even after she retired, former students continued to contact her, she was so popular. When she turned 110 in December 2022, postcards from former students poured in.
Diny Mackenbach was an executive secretary in The Hague, where she drove every day in her dark red DAF, type Daffodil. She was the busy one of the two, she cleaned the house, did the shopping and took care of everything. Often with the explanation: “Heleen is in bed”. Could it be that in many cases there was nothing wrong with her? This can also be linked to her brothers’ hemophilia. As the eldest child, all the attention in the family suddenly went to his sick brother Jan. And then another brother and another. Diny could deal with that. Not only did she drive her brothers back and forth to the hospital, her mobility made her more able to live her own life and go out into the wide world. It was different for Heleen, especially after she retired, who was tired of the attention.
And then there was that boy next door, that foster child of both of them. The son they never had, a loss that undoubtedly caused them great sadness. “Are you still our child?” Diny asked when I was about fourteen. “Not formally anymore,” was my witty answer, because I already knew that ‘no’ would be too painful and ‘yes’ too sticky.
I didn’t see either of them very often after that, until I decided to ring the doorbell about six years prior. Diny walked from the kitchen to the living room with her walker and gave me tea and a cookie. Heleen said goodbye, but was lying in bed. The apartment was luxurious, the view was beautiful, the sisters seemed to have a great life together. There were thick novels in the room. Heleen asked her sister to read books in advance, a kind of preview, to warn her about possible sex scenes. She was as chaste as a nun.
Diny Mackenbach (1919-2018) died at the age of 99 in 2018; Until a few years earlier she still drove a car. In the past year I visited Heleen a few times, who had now become bedridden. Her cousins, Jan and Riet Willemsen, came to visit every Friday afternoon. Riet prepared food for the whole week, with daily portions in Tupperware in the freezer. It only needed to be thawed and warmed up by Humanitas employees. The staff came up to eight times a day to check on her. She had deteriorated mentally and normal conversation was no longer possible. Usually when I said something to her, she just said “yes” or something unintelligible. She drank and ate well. Chocolate, apple pie, oliebollen: everything was delicious.
The last time I see her is November 17, two weeks before her death. I first drive along the Meidoornsingel in Schiebroek, where the walls of the Roman Catholic Resurrection Church are being demolished that day. Yet another victim of secularization. The church where I was baptized and made my first communion, the church where the ladies Mackenbach have walked so many steps. Diny was on the church board and for her efforts she received the papal award Pro Ecclesia et Pontifici (For Church and Pope). Upon arrival, Jan and Riet Willemsen tell us that Heleen is remarkably bright and sweet today. “She grabbed my hand, so you know she appreciates it.” When I sit down by her bed and tell her I’m there, ‘Paultje’, her eyes suddenly open wide: “Paultje!” With another “yes” as a greeting, those are the last words she speaks to me. More than a week later, Helena Barbera Maria Mackenbach is struck by pneumonia and it is clear that she does not have long to live. Jan and Riet Willemsen sit vigil with her in the evening when she takes her last breath, three weeks before she would turn 111 years old. “She suddenly stood up and nodded. As if she wanted to say goodbye to life with a bow.”
Heleen Mackenbach passed away in Rotterdam, South Holland, Netherlands, on December 3, 2023 at the age of 110 years, 339 days. Following her death, then-110-year-old Marina van der Es-Siewers became the oldest known living person in Netherlands and the Benelux.
Heleen Mackenbach became the oldest known living person in the Netherlands, following the death of 110-year-old Ebeltje Boekema-Hut on 11 June 2022. Following the death of 111-year-old Magda Janssens of Belgium on 18 September 2023, she became the oldest known living person in the Benelux.
In December 2022, Mackenbach celebrated her 110th birthday and became a supercentenarian.
- Doyenne of the Netherlands (16.09.2022 – 03.12.2023)
- Oldest living person in the Benelux (18.09.2023 – 03.12.2023)
The age of Heleen Mackenbach was meticulously examined and verified by Messrs. Gert Jan Kuiper and Jair van Dijk, GRG-Netherlands Correspondents, and Mr. Paul Verspeek, and validated by the GRG as of November 18, 2023.
Heleen (aged 13), John, Ben, Diny Mackenbach and their mother, ca 1925.
Heleen (aged 30), Diny, John en Ben Mackenbach, 1942
Heleen Mackenbach as a teacher; undated.
In the garden with the Mackenbach family, 1964: little Paul, dad Mackenbach, brother Erik and Heleen.
Heleen Mackenbach (aged 95) and her sister Diny Mackenbach; 2007
Heleen Mackenbach (aged 100) and her sister Diny Mackenbach; 2012
Heleen Mackenbach (aged 101) and her sister Diny Mackenbach; 2013
Photo courtesy of Mr. Paul Verspeek.