POWHATAN – Local residents Harvey Paquette and Gloria Aspinwall were recently surprised by friends and family to celebrate their 95th and 90th birthdays, respectively.
Harvey marked his 95th birthday on May 19 with a special surprise drive-by celebration spearheaded by fellow members of the Powhatan Lions Club and Powhatan United Methodist Church. He said he was taken completely by surprise when his family brought him to the end of his driveway and he saw the flashing lights of a long line of cars led by a sheriff’s office vehicle.
“I had no idea. Then I looked up and saw the flashing light and thought, ‘oh my goodness, this is going to be something.’ And it sure was. It was wonderful,” he said.
A week later, on May 26, Gloria’s daughter, Pat, told her they were getting out of the house after two months inside so they could go get a latte to celebrate her 90th birthday. But instead, she drove her mother to a parking lot where friends were waiting with signs, music, and well wishes for her special day.
“I just feel so wonderful and so lucky that I have come to this point. I never thought I would be 90 years old,” an emotional Gloria said after the party ended.
Terry Paquette said he and his family had been planning to make a big deal of his dad’s 95th birthday, but COVID-19 restrictions limited that. So he reached out to his fellow Lions, who were more than happy to come help make the day special for his father.
Even before the pandemic started heating up in the United States, Harvey had been unable to attend Lions Club meetings because of an injury. So his son knew seeing any members of the club would be a special treat.
Having between 25 and 30 cars filled with people show up for the celebration was beyond any of their expectations, Terry said. So was having the parade led by sheriff Brad Nunnally, who is also a Lions Club member.
“As my father said, it was one of the most humbling experiences of his life. He just felt so honored by them doing that. We videoed the whole thing. He is still talking about it, as is our whole family,” he said.
At his age, Harvey said he has had many experiences, “but nothing like that.”
“I broke my ankle three months ago, so I have been pretty much housebound. When the virus hit, I have stayed housebound. It was exciting to get down to the driveway and see all those people I know and love tooting their horns,” Harvey said.
Similarly, Gloria was completely taken by surprise when her daughter pulled their vehicle into the parking lot of Graceland Baptist Church and she saw the people gathered and read some of their signs.
The original plan was to have a big celebration in New Jersey, where Gloria was born and much of her family still lives, Pat said. She was going to see plenty of family and get two days to play in a casino. But those plans were canceled because of the pandemic.
After the surprise, Gloria said she didn’t mind that the original plans were scrapped because she felt like the surprise drive-in birthday party was “meant to be.”
“I feel so lucky. So many people came out just for me – just for me – and I have never had that,” she said.
Pat said they received special permission from the church to use the parking lot, and many of the people who came to the party were friends who are former co-workers at Chesterfield County Public Schools or members of the Powhatan Democratic Committee.
Two cars from the sheriff’s office also drove by with their lights on and wished a shocked Gloria a happy birthday.
The party guests had to wear masks and social distance, and even though she didn’t recognize everyone, Gloria said she felt swell because of the trouble they went to in her honor.
“Look at the trouble they have been through to do this for me. I am not special; I have a special day today, but other than that, I am just a mom,” Gloria said with surprise in her voice. “What have I done to deserve this?”
“She is the best mom anyone could ever have,” Pat replied. “I dearly love her. All of my siblings love her and wish they could have been here.”
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.