Eva Ziel is constantly smiling.
On the umpteenth dreary cold day in a nonexistent spring, the 90-year-old Orland Park resident was laughing and grinning ear-to-ear on Tuesday, as she was treated to a birthday celebration at High Point Elementary. For the last 12 years, she has served students lunch, and her co-workers say the smiling and laughing comes from her every day, not just on her birthday.
“She’s like the energizer bunny,” said co-worker Julie Box. “She rarely ever takes a sick day, and doesn’t ever complain. No matter what the weather is like outside she always says ‘it’s a beautiful day.’”
Ziel worked for 25 years in a Motorola plant, and then picked up waitressing as well as different volunteer work after retiring from the company. Being involved with a school brings Ziel full circle to her childhood in Crown Point, Ind., where her mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse. Between leaving Indiana and settling in Orland Park, she spent time in Chicago and Wisconsin.
Ziel said she enjoys the students’ presence at the job and living in Orland Park allows her to live close to Gregory, one of her three sons.
“You get older and you need something to do,” Ziel said. “Here, you meet nice people.”
Ziel still served lunch Tuesday, even though students kept stopping by to wish her a happy birthday. Once the kids were fed, she was treated to cake and several other birthday wishes. High Point Principal Marianne Byrnes placed a paper crown made for her birthday on Ziel’s head. Individual students came up to give her cards and hugs, while a whole throng of kids and staff sang to her.
But it doesn’t only take a 90th birthday for such warmth to come back to Ziel.
“Around Christmas one time, one of the students who was on reduced lunch gave me a present,” she said. “They’re such good kids.”