After Suffering a Stroke at Age 102, the Country's Oldest Working Teacher Needs a Little Help

Agnes Zhelesnik, 102, just wants to get back to teaching.

After suffering a stroke at age 102, the country’s oldest working school teacher needs a little extra help getting back into the classroom.

Agnes Zhelesnik, a beloved fixture at the Sundance School in New Jersey, collapsed about two weeks ago. 

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Although her seizure was diagnosed as mild, the great-grandmother needs physical therapy and rehabilitation training. And that’s where the need for help comes in.

She was discharged from the hospital and placed in a rehab facility, a listless, depressing place where residents stared at the walls, family members told Wednesday. Zhelesnik was far more lucid than any of her new neighbors.

“My mother and I came home crying. We just couldn’t leave her there,” said granddaughter Nikki Ardizzone.  “There was not one other person like her” in the facility. “It was depressing. She said at night she wanted to scream.”

So on Tuesday, the mother and daughter liberated Zhelesnik, who was more than overjoyed to get out the place.

But insurance will only pay for short-term care at home. Her grandson, Ken Arakelian, has established a GoFundMe campaign to pay for around-the-clock care for his ‘Granny’ in the home she shares with his mother and father.

Arakelian’s parents are in their 70s and can’t lift Zhelesnik to help her bathe and use the restroom.

“I want her to come home. I know that a lot of people love Granny and would want to help her. I don’t know what to expect. I just figured I’d ask,” he said.

So far, the page has raised more than $7,000.

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Zhelesnik was a housewife for most of her adult life. In her 80s, as a widow, her daughter, a teacher, asked if she’d like to help out in the school cafeteria.

She said yes.

Then the school asked if she’d like to teach classes in cooking and sewing.

Sure, she replied.

That is how she became “Granny” to classrooms full of 5-year-olds — while showing them how to bake cookies and sew a button on a shirt.

“I’m just a natural granny and I know they love me,” she said last year.

“She really wants to go back to school,” her granddaughter said. “She’s determined. She’s crocheting again; she’s using it as her physical therapy.”

The elderly woman has limited movement and coordination on her right side, but is able to take steps with a walker, her grandchildren said.

“She has a good spirit,” said Ardizzone. “I can’t have her depressed … I don’t know what we’ll do, but we’ll figure it out.”

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