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Bayside centenarian celebrates her birthday at PS 159

A crowd of about 550 schoolchildren sent birthday greetings to a 100-year-old woman Monday.

The children, students at Bayside's PS 159, gathered outside their school Monday morning to sing "Happy Birthday" and present handmade birthday cards, banners and baskets of paper flowers to Rose Russo, who has lived across from the school since the 1950s.

"We are trying to make this day special so she can enjoy it," said Kellie Zestankis, 9, who helped create a banner for the occasion and joined her fellow students to present it to Russo.

"I thinks it's cool," said Steven Bellanie, 10, of Russo's birthday.

Just before 9 a.m., Russo came out of her house and the small children whispered, "There she is." Then, the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" and the PS 159 school anthem. A group of fifth-grade music students played instruments. Russo listened to the children sing and received their greetings from a lawn chair outside her house. She smiled, clapped and wiped her eyes as the children sang to her.

After the songs, students, who ranged from members of pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade classes, wished her happy birthday as they gave her signs and cards they had made in class. The pre-kindergarteners made baskets of paper flowers for the occasion. The entire school participated in the event.

"We are a community school," said Marlene Zucker, the school's principal. "And this is a momentous occasion."

Russo, who loves flowers and gardening, kicked off her birthday celebrations with dancing at a block party outside her home Saturday. She did not know about the school's event until when her daughter, Ros Russo, told her that morning.

She was really excited, said Ros Russo, who lives with her mother.

By the end of the event, Russo had a lapful of colorful creations made by the students. And she did not want to go back inside without the paper flowers made for her.

"She will sit at home and look at everything. She really gets a pleasure out of it," her daughter said.

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