More than 100 ladies greet their 80th birthday with style

By Cecilia Nasmith

More than 100 women born in 1939 gathered this week for a mass 80th-birthday celebration at Cobourg's Best Western – but all agreed the women themselves deserve celebrating as well as the milestone.

Among their number, a handful had celebrated a 60th wedding anniversary. One was born on a kitchen table in Nova Scotia as the family looked on. One grew up in a concentration camp. One grew up in Holland in a family that was part of the underground resistance. Perhaps 16 spent childhoods in England ducking in and out of bomb shelters.

Along with the history represented by the group, Cobourg Councillor Nicole Beatty pointed out, there was the evidence of all they had done to enhance the world around them.

“I see my grandmother's friends, former teachers, the woman who gave me my very first job, trailblazers, activists, survivors – women who are living their lives regardless of age,” Beatty said.

“I can only hope in 40 years, when myself and my friends are celebrating our 80th birthdays, it's with a much beauty and grace as you are celebrating today.”

Until that day, Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini said, he had associated the year 1939 with his two favourite films, Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Now the year carries a third positive association for him.

“You shaped your community and paved the way for the next generation to get involved in the community, like Nicole and myself,” Piccini said.

“Thank you for making this community a great place to work, to raise a family.

“Happy birthday, and I am looking forward to coming back again for more birthdays to come for what I am sure will be an ever-growing group.”

“This generation helped reimagine our planet in ways that could never have been conceived,” committee member Roma Colbert read from greetings sent by Northumberland-Peterborough MP Kim Rudd.

“Over eight decades, you have undeniably seen the greatest advances in human history,” Rudd wrote, listing a variety of milestones from man walking on the moon to the electric car.

“But the thread that binds you all together, I would suggest, is the strength of character.”

Many women present, Rudd speculated, may have been the first in their families to work full-time, to strive for a profession, to get a post-secondary education – a remarkable heritage to have established.

Colbert said the community had come through in a most generous way for the celebrations, pointing to a table of 34 donated gifts (plus a painting) that were to become amazing door prizes.

The happy-birthday cakes on display were from Dutch Oven and Metro, and two wonderful surprises appeared.

Town crier Mandy Robinson showed up unexpected to present her own gift – a cry tailored to this special occasion.

And while Piccini had been expected, the buckets of fresh roses he brought along to distribute to the birthday ladies were a lovely surprise.

Organizer Alma Draper welcomed the roomful for their special birthday.

“We don't need to be reminded of that, because this is the year we all have to do our drivers' tests,” Draper added.

“I passed!” one jubilant lady cried out.

Draper related how this party – the third of its kind – had begun.

It was at a Probus Club meeting 10 years ago, when her 70th birthday was looming. She was standing with three other women and playfully griped that she needn't expect a big birthday celebration, as she was the only woman in her household. All three said they were celebrating a 70th birthday that year.

Draper approached the Best Western for a 70th-birthday party for the women of the area, but they'd never heard of such a thing and asked for a minimum of 50. In the end, 81 women showed up and the event actually produced a $4.12 surplus (which she donated to Petticoat Lane).

A repeat event to celebrate everyone's 75th birthday drew 98 women, and this year's gala topped even that.

Draper read out the names of five women who were at the 75th party and had died before the 80th. Among them was her co-organizer Bert MacMillan, who is now honoured with a bench and a tree at the Cobourg waterfront.

A delicious luncheon and birthday cake were followed by door prizes and musical entertainment by Joyful Noise.