100 reasons to celebrate

COSTA MESA — When 100-year-old Irene Hetzel was a girl in Beaumont, she lived too far to walk the three miles to school, and her family didn't have a car.

Instead, she and her brother had to find alternative transportation.

"I had to come in a horse and buggy," Hetzel said before asking a class of kindergartners at Woodland Elementary School, "Do you know what that is?"

The Long Beach resident was the special guest of Michelle Lambright's class Wednesday afternoon as they celebrated the 100th day of school by making a necklace of 100 Froot Loops, sharing a collection of 100 items and doing sets of 10 physical activities, like skipping and jumping jacks, until they reached 100.

The students have been counting every day of school as a tool to practice counting to 100 and by fives and tens, said room mom Kimaleigh Altshuler, whose 6-year-old son, Alexander, is in the class.

"Everything today has been tied to 100," she said. "It's a big day for them — a really big day."

Hetzel, in her matching purple trousers, blouse and perfectly coordinated purple paper crown with "100" emblazed on the front in glitter, talked before the sea of yellow paper crowns with kindergartners beneath them.

Hetzel sat in the only adult-sized chair as the students camped out on a colorful rug until it was their turn to stand to ask Hetzel a question, or tell her something about themselves.

"How does it feel when you're 100 years old?" asked Alexa Zarate, 5.

Hetzel said she sometimes feels old, but sometimes feels good — and she can still do a lot of things.

Other students asked her about her favorite games at recess (playground time), what time she wakes up (as early as 4 a.m.), if she has a dog (not now but she did as a girl) and if she had homework in school (not in kindergarten).

Avery Montiel, 5, stood up during her turn and asked Hetzel what her favorite age was.

Hetzel, a former elementary schoolteacher, told the class her favorite age was 16 and then asked Avery the same question.

"My favorite age so far was 5," Avery said.

Pictures of Hetzel as a girl were also passed around to the class in clear plastic bags.

Meeting Hetzel has been a chance for the students to get a first-hand account of how life has changed over the years, Altshuler said.

Alexa said she liked meeting Hetzel and her favorite part of the 100th celebration was taking a class picture with her.

The kindergartner said she liked hearing about the buggy but had a hard time imagining life without the automobile.

"I can't believe that," she said.

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