It was more than coincidence that connected birthday gal Harriette Rosenbaum to Stoughton first graders this month.

And what better month to celebrate a 100th birthday than in February, the month of love.

Staff at the Oconomowoc nursing home Rosenbaum lives at, Shorehaven, set out on a challenge – to have Harriette receive at least 100 cards for her 100th birthday on Feb. 15.

They set to work gathering cards from each other, families, residents and volunteers. And then Sandhill Elementary School joined in.

Shorehaven staff member Kira Grosenick had contacted her parents, both of whom are first grade teachers at the school, to solicit more birthday cards for Harriette. Teachers agreed it would serve as a good exercise in handwriting, content and correspondence.

First graders wrapped their arms around the project, and soon the hearts of four first grade classrooms were captured, exclaiming the theme “100 is cool.”

In the midst of the project, they discovered that Harriette’s family was from Stoughton, having owned a downtown jewelry store there for decades. And that one of the teachers, instructor Colleen Wermuth, shared her birthday with Harriette.

“It was more than coincidental,” said Shorehaven social worker Jan Braun. “This connection was truly meant to be.”

More than 60 first grader-authored cards arrived at Shorehaven this week, with inscriptions “100 is Cool and So Are You,” “When I’m a 100 I’m going to own an arcade, movie theater, pizza place and a bowling alley,” and “When I’m 100 I’ll turn into a Cat Lady.”

Other students scrawled “I love 100 and I love you too,” and “When I’m 100 I’ll take more naps,” “I hope you get a laptop on your birthday” and “I hope you get 100 presents.” One young man simply said, “When I’m 100 I’ll watch more football.”

Oconomowoc High School AP digital communications class students heard of the birthday coincidence and created a video showcasing the first-graders’ cards and them singing “Happy Birthday” atop school gymnasium risers.

“It’s a win-win for the students and for Harriette. The children learned about aging and a reason to celebrate all birthdays. “What a wonderful thing that people can reach out in kindness to someone they don’t even know.”

In the meantime, Harriette is opening more than 200 cards during her birthday week, connecting with friends across the country, those who share her love for reading, hiking, flying, and symphonies, from fellow soup kitchen volunteers, international students and PEO group members.

“Harriette has always connected with all types of people,” said Braun. “And she didn’t have to turn 100 to realize that she is forever surrounded by all types of love.”

— Sarah Williams-Berg