A woman believed to be America’s oldest working teacher marked her 100th birthday Friday at The Sundance School in North Plainfield.
Students, teachers and family members of Agnes Zhelesnik, who is known to her students as “Granny,” works 35 hours a week teaching Home Economics, conducting after-school cooking and sewing lessons, and making costumes for school plays. She started working at the school at the age of 81.
Students in a packed school gymnasium sang “Happy Birthday” and presented her with a cake Friday before putting on a performance wearing costumes that Zhelesnik had helped sew.
Born on January 12, 1914, in Thomas, West Virginia, to Lithuanian immigrants, Zhelesnik had to drop out of school during the Depression to work in a can factory. She was married for 61 years before her husband passed away in 1999.
“She is just the happiest person, and stress free, and enjoys life, that’s really it — simple,” said her granddaughter, Nina Lord.
Zhelesnik, seated in a velvet throne, received hugs and gifts from her students.
“As long as you’re healthy and you’re active, keep busy,” she said. “To me, you have to keep busy.”