America's Oldest Working Teacher Nicknamed 'Granny' Celebrates Turning 102

A 102-year-old teacher has her own secret for living a long life: "Just be happy," she says.

Meet Agnes Zhelesnik, perhaps the oldest teacher in America, who turned 102 Tuesday and has never met a student she didn't love.

She teaches cooking and sewing at The Sundance School in New Jersey, where her five-year-old charges call her "Granny."

They lap up her kindness and gentle help, especially when it comes to really hard things that even adults struggle with, like rolling dough.

Her wrinkled fingers fly over the rolling pins, caressing the delicate mixture into place while guiding her students' tiny hands.

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Her life was captured by The Seventy-Four, a group that spotlights everyday heroes at schools across the country.

Speaking of her birthday, and the years that she has lived, she exclaims "Isn't that a big number?"

She never thought of teaching until she was in her 80s, when her daughter, who teaches at art at the private school in North Plainfield, said the cafeteria needed help.

So Zhelesnik went to work, and that led to her imparting the lessons of cooking and sewing to children only too willing to learn.

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There were no computers, televisions, electricity or indoor toilets when Zhelesnik went to school, she says. The new-fangled accoutrements of her pint-sized students are mind-boggling to her.

But there are no online substitutions to know how to cook a good meal, or sew a button onto a shirt, she says.

"This is something that they're going to use for the rest of their lives; they're not going to have it just for today," she said.

She no longer drives and hitches a ride to work with her 72-year-old daughter. But she moves like a woman 20 years her junior, helping children measure vanilla, and bending to remove trays of freshly baked cookies from a massive oven.

"I'm just a natural granny and I know they love me," she said. She also sews aprons for all her kids, so their clothes won't get dirty while they cook. And she makes all the costumes for school plays and pageants.

Asked the secret of her long life, Zhelesnik just laughs as if the question was self-evident.

"Be happy," she replies. "You have to like what you do."

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