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Retired cafeteria worker celebrates 102nd birthday at school

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Nan Strickland, seated in chair, is pictured with her great-grandchildren, far right, front row, and back row from left Nashville Elementary Assistant Principal Quarry Williams, Principal Quintin Mangano and music teacher Mandy Bailey

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From Contributed Reports

Monday, November 27, 2017

Nash County resident Nan Strickland turned 102 on Tuesday. As part of her many planned birthday celebrations, Strickland spent time with students and staff at Nashville Elementary School on Nov. 17.

Strickland was a cafeteria worker at Nashville Elementary School for years, and even served as the cafeteria manager at Northern Nash High School before retiring. Returning to her roots at Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools and being around students as part of her milestone birthday was important to her.

When Strickland arrived in the Nashville Elementary School media center, she was surprised by students who sang “Happy Birthday” to her. Strickland’s daughter, son, grandson, great grandchildren — who are students at Nashville Elementary — and other family members were also present for the surprise.

Strickland was seated in a special birthday rocking chair, complete with birthday balloons streaming from the top. Nashville Elementary teacher Janet Pridgen’s fifth-grade students prepared questions for Strickland in advance, and were able to ask her about the things she had learned and seen throughout her long life.

As students had their questions answered about history and Strickland’s life, one student asked Strickland what her birthday wish was for this year.

“To keep living long enough to share with people how to eat right, live right and love each other,” Strickland responded.

As an avid gardener, Strickland has a passion for growing and sharing her own food, as well as educating people on healthy eating. Strickland’s crops are even used by local churches and nonprofit organizations to help provide meals for local residents in need. In addition to the question-and-answer session led by students, Strickland took time to share about gardening, as she explained to students how she farms, gathers and utilizes her crops.

At the end of the event, Strickland was surprised with a cake and other refreshments. Students also presented her with 102 handmade birthday cards. Mandy Bailey, Nashville Elementary music teacher and organizer of the event, explained how making the cards for Strickland was incorporated into instructional time.

“Carrie Morningstar (Nashville Elementary art teacher) and I worked together to help students create 102 birthday cards. We integrated ideas into our lessons about music and art history over the past 100 years. Music classes listened to music from each decade starting in 1915 — after we did a math problem to figure out the year she was born. Students loved listening to the music from that period and beyond,” Bailey said. “Students also thought about how music and art are woven into our lives. They discovered that in every culture music and art are important aspects of events such as birthdays.”

At the end of the party, Strickland had a few words she wanted to leave with the students and staff.

“Remember, you never get too old to learn,” she said. “Don’t forget to love each other,” she excitedly added as she hugged students and staff goodbye.

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