A N.J. teacher is 100 and her students celebrated her record as the oldest working educator in U.S. Friday. Agnes Zhelesnik still works 35 hours a week as a home economics teacher and spends extra time after school giving sewing and cooking lessons and making costumes for school plays.
"Working with the kids is the fun part. They are so great to be with and they like the food that I make," she told NJ1015.com. "I always cook with all-natural ingredients and I try to make things healthy for the children. I think the most important thing I can teach them is about nutrition and how to take care of their bodies."
The New Jersey educator works for The Sundance School in North Plainfield, where students celebrated her centennial birthday with a school rally and performance. All the students went to the gymnasium for cake along with one of her daughters, a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.
She was also treated to a performance by young theatre actor Lucas Schultz, who attended the school previously. Then there was a student tribute and a school rendition of one of Zhelesnik's favorite productions, "The Little Mermaid Jr."— they even used some of the costumes she sewed for them.
Zhelesnik, who the students affectionately nicknamed "Granny," works full time as a home economics teacher. She learned her skills for cooking and sewing through a lifetime of providing: born January 12, 1914, she was working in a can factory for $16 a week during the Great Depression to help her family. Her parents and four siblings had emigrated from Lithuania to the U.S., eventually settling in Bayonne, N.J.
Zhelesnik married her husband in 1938, and was married for 61 years until he died in 1999. Before he passed, she began working for The Sundance School in 1995 at age 81. She plans to work as long as she is able.
"I don't know why people don't want to work. I think it's important to get out and do something, and I enjoy cooking with the kids," Zhelesnik explained. "I am healthy enough and I'm able to do it and I think an able person should do something, and helping kids is what I like to do."
Her granddaughter Nina Lord said that her grandmother has always enjoyed life.
"She is just the happiest person, and stress free, and enjoys life, that's really it— simple," Lord said. Granny believes that staying active in mind and body is part of the reason she's still kicking at 100.
"As long as you're healthy and you're active, keep busy," Zhelesnik advised. "To me, you have to keep busy."