“We just wanted to try to make him feel special."
Jennifer Stover was on a mission to throw a surprise party for her 95-year-old uncle.
But how do you do that in the middle of social distancing?
Stover rounded up a bunch of her family members to have a parade where they drove a few laps April 26 around the home of their uncle, Roy Spence, of Camden.
Around a dozen vehicles slowly cruised around Spence’s house, honking each time they passed him. The birthday boy observed the celebration while sitting shotgun in a van parked across the street from his house, along with a home health aide.
Stover said she doesn’t know how his home health aides managed to trick “Uncle Bud” into the van. But she’s thankful it worked.
“They were very sneaky. I think they told him they were going for a drive and just pulled here at the end of the road to keep him warm [inside of the van],” said Stover, 40, of Middletown.
After the parade, a few family members braved the rain and walked up to the van to greet Spence, giving him various gifts, including a plastic container of fruit.
“We just wanted to try to make him feel special. With this coronavirus, there’s no way for us to have a cake or anything,” Stover said. “So I copied this [parade idea] from some friends I saw on Facebook.”
Wins and losses
Stover said her uncle graduated valedictorian of Caesar Rodney High School for the Class of 1943.
That same year he was met with highs and some devastating lows, including a family death.
“His 21-year-old big sister was killed in a World War II munitions plant in Milford,” Stover said about her aunt, Eleanor Mae.
“It was so incredibly painful to see his parents mourn their daughter. He ‘closed the casket’ for them, as they both were so overcome with grief. His mother fainted,” she added.
Not long after, Spence enlisted into the Navy. He was only in for 100 days before a medical discharge, due to a heart condition.
“He was very broke up about that, that he couldn’t serve his country,” his niece said.
In 1944, Spence married his first love, Doris Arrington Spence. They had four children together.
He spent about a decade working as an accountant at Playtex in Dover. The plant’s since been replaced by a shopping center featuring businesses like Red Robin: Gourmet Burgers and Brews.
After Playtex, Spence moved his family to Roselle Park, New Jersey. He took a job with Prudential Insurance in Manhattan, where he worked for 36 years until retiring in 1991.
During that time, his son Roger joined the Army and was killed in Vietnam, Stover said. In 2003, Spence’s wife passed away.
“He’s had a lot of loss in his life, but it’s admirable how jovial he is,” Stover said. “He always has a smile and a very positive attitude towards life.”
After attending a high school reunion in the early 2000s, Spence met the second love of his life, Charlotte Courtney, a former classmate. The pair married in 2005. They lived in Florida before coming back to Camden in 2012.
Charlotte turned 95 a few weeks ago.
‘He’s so special!
It was important for Stover to celebrate her uncle’s birthday because they share a longtime bond, she said.
“Uncle Bud actually walked me down the aisle when I got married a little over three years ago, at age 91,” she explained. “He’s so special!”
Later on the day of Spence’s parade, Stover said she officially received confirmation that “Operation Birthday Boy” was a success.
“He was very happy with the surprise,” Stover said about her uncle. “He said, ‘I suspect you were behind this!’ He was beaming with joy.”