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A resident at Oaknoll Retirement Residence in Iowa City was surprised with 100 flowers for her 100th birthday on Friday.

While following social distancing guidelines, at least 20 staff and family members came out to the courtyard area to celebrate the centenarian. They decorated with balloons and gave her a crown. 

Born in Chicago on May 8, 1920, Jeanne Kuentzel looked on at the spectacle with a grin.

"I'm still here breathing in and out," she said, holding a cup of non-alcoholic champagne. "I'm quite blessed." 

Oaknoll Administrator Kim Bergen-Jackson said the residence is in its ninth week of social distancing measures since COVID-19 started spreading across the country. Still, residents and staff are finding ways to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, Nurses Week, Staff Appreciation and other events. 

"Oaknoll is doing well," Bergen-Jackson said. "The residents are resilient and strong. The staff are working hard and trying to keep everyone's spirits up."

Kuentzel's daughter, Kathi Dykstra, said her mom was pleasantly surprised. Dykstra, her husband Roger and their daughter Melissa celebrated with Kuentzel at a distance.

"When you can't give someone a hug, lots of smiles is great," said Kathi Dykstra. "She's having a great time."

Kuentzel said it was an "incredible birthday" and it was making up for years when her birthdays couldn't be celebrated because of hard times. 

After growing up in Chicago, Kuentzel went to the University of Wisconsin and studied music, Dykstra said. There, she met her future husband, Paul Kuentzel. 

They got married in 1941 in California, and after some time apart due to the war, they eventually moved to Iowa. She taught piano lessons, and Paul was the Winterset High School band director, Dykstra said. 

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After all these years, Kuentzel said smiling has been the key to her long life.

There was plenty of that to see on Friday, Bergen-Jackson said. 

"She sat alone in her wheelchair on the patio and loved every second of it, keeping time with the music and smiling ear to ear," she said. "We had other assisted living folks watching from their windows. We all needed to celebrate today." 

Hillary Ojeda can be reached at 319-321-5355, hojeda@press-citizen.com, or follow her on Twitter at @hillarymojeda.

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