SEBRING - Entering a classroom in a wheelchair, Maria Jacoves told a group of 4- and 5-year-olds at the Kindergarten Learning Center that she wanted to learn something new.
"I love children; they are my pride and joy," she said Wednesday.
With their smiles, hugs and the "Happy Birthday" song, the children made it a memorial day for Jacoves' 100th birthday.
The preschool students took a break from learning about colors, shapes and the alphabet to welcome Jacoves.
Jacoves was born, Maria Teresa Gomez, June 12, 1913 in Venezuela. She has been a resident of the nearby Sunny Hills assisted living facility for about 10 years.
Kindergarten Learning Center teacher Carol Willard told Jacoves, "You are a very brave lady to come to kindergarten."
Willard asked Jacoves about her background.
Jacoves told the students that when she was 8 she moved to New York City with her aunt. When her aunt moved away, she was raised by Catholic nuns in a convent.
"I grew up in New York City by myself and that was no fun," she said.
She spoke of her early life in Venezuela, saying it was a very poor country.
They had no refrigerator and cooking was done on a wood-burning stove that was outside, Jacoves said. They lived in a straw house. They had no beds so they slept on the floor.
"If you wanted fish, you had to swim for them," she said.
Willard asked Jacoves what she likes to do.
Jacoves replied she likes to take care of children and take care of animals.
What is her favorite food?
Jacoves said she likes to eat everything, but then added, "I don't eat meat; I like vegetables and milk."
Willard acknowledged that Jacoves' diet likely contributed to her good health and long life.
Jacoves said she exercises at 9:30 every morning.
A Sunny Hills staff member said Jacoves uses a walker and is independent.
A bio prepared by her family said Jacoves married Lester Jacoves who was in the U.S. Air Force. They had three children, a son and two daughters.
Lester passed away on Christmas Day in 1969 when they were living in Miami.
Jacoves moved to Sebring and worked as a CNA at the Cottrell Nursing home, which is now known as The Palms.
She lived in San Antonio for about 10 years and then moved back to Highlands County.
Before coming to Sunny Hills, Jacoves lived at Fair Havens Village for about 10 years.
"Anyone who knows Maria will tell you that their lives have been enriched having come to know her and love her, and that she is a sweet lady and a joy to be around," said Jacoves' friend, Beverly Weeks.