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Clearwater centenarian celebrates milestone 100th birthday with nearly 300 surprise cards from around the globe

Nelly Bowman got nearly 300 cards from 20 states and two countries thanks to a Facebook request from a woman who works in her nursing home.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Anyone working in a caretaker role has faced challenges in 2020 and into 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Michelle Burrell is no different. She has served as the Life Enrichment Director at Palm Gardens in Clearwater for just over a year.

After a long year, she got something to smile about at the office this past week.

“It’s special to be part of, especially in a pandemic,” said Burrell. “It’s a big deal.”

Burrell now has a resident centenarian. Nelly Bowman hit the 100-mark on March 15. To celebrate, the best way possible under pandemic restrictions, Burrell asked members of the Facebook group I Love St. Pete to write cards and send them to Bowman. The group is over 72,000 members strong.

She was asking for 100 cards to celebrate 100 years.

“Well, 260 cards later, and 20 states, and another country, it just blew up,” said Burrell.

That brought a smile to Bowman’s face.

“I said, ‘Oh boy, I’m getting important’,” said the birthday girl. “Everybody likes me.”

Credit: Michelle Burrell

The cards, from as far away as Canada, were gathered and presented to Bowman on her birthday. She’s only opened a few of them so far but cherishes them all.

“I think we’ve open to 15 because she’s 100 she likes to take her naps,” joked Burrell. “So, we have 245 still to go.”

Turns out, this is a pretty popular thing. Donna Holland’s daughter, who lives in Largo, posted on Facebook as well in the beginning of March that she would like cards sent to her mother as well. Holland turned 82 on March 13. It was the first birthday she’d celebrate without her husband.

Credit: Karen Ann

“(To) date, over 300 cards received and 2,300 comments on two posts of wishing her a happy birthday,” wrote her daughter in a Facebook message.

As special as these words on paper can be to someone hurting or lonely, it’s not the words themselves that mean the most. It’s the realization that you’re not alone and that people, even strangers, care.

“Usually we would have a huge event in-house with family,” said Burrell. “It has restored faith in humanity for me.”

And it was a pretty remarkable way for Bowman to cross over the century mark. Even at 100 years, she’s still full of spunk.

“I’d still be an interesting girlfriend,” she said with a smile.

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