Community celebrates a WWII vet’s 100th birthday

In this May 3, 2020 photo, World War II veteran Jim Curry, waves at parade outside his home in Commerce Township, Mich. Friends and family members couldn't give Curry a giant birthday party because of the state's COVID-19 stay-at-home order so they brought one to him with a parade of 140 cars driven by friends and family members. Curry celebrated his 100th birthday the following day. (Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press via AP)


Detroit Free Press

AP Member Exchange

DETROIT – Jim Curry came out of the house and moved quickly down the driveway, pushing a walker. He flashed a tender smile one day before his 100th birthday.

“Happy birthday!” Curry was told from about 15 feet away, trying to keep a safe distance from the World War II veteran.

“Thank you!” he said.

Curry sat in a lawn chair in front of the three-bedroom house that he built 73 years ago on Lake Union Road in Commerce Township.

“I’ve lived on this street for 95 1/2 years,” he told the Detroit Free Press, his mind still sharp. “I built a lot of these houses.”

Then, he started pointing at the houses he built as a contractor. He was still going up in the rafters when he was in his 70s.

About a quarter-mile away more than 140 cars lined up in the parking lot in front of It’s A Matter Of Taste, a restaurant on Union Lake.

“It’s not a surprise,” said his daughter, Barb Mussen, 73, of Commerce Township. “You don’t surprise somebody who is 100.”

But it was still fantastic.

If they couldn’t give Curry a giant birthday party because of the stay-at-home order, they brought one to him with a seriously cool, rolling parade.

A Commerce Township fire truck led the way, flashing its lights and blaring a siren, followed by all the cars. People held signs, waved pompoms, honked their horns and waved. Passengers popped out of their sun roofs or yelled from their seats:

“Happy birthday Grandpa!”

“You are amazing!”

“Have a great day, sir!”

“God bless you!”

“I miss you!”

For about a half hour, Curry sat in a lawn chair, smiling away, his arms reaching out, as if he was trying to touch everybody.

“What’s the secret to turning 100?”

“I’ve had great friends all my life,” he said.

For nearly 100 years, Curry went nonstop, building houses, playing golf and going to church. He is a member of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Walled Lake.

But the COVID-19 crisis has kept him locked up in the house with his son, Dan, 68.

“This pandemic has been really, really hard on Jim,” said Galen Grulke, a visitation pastor at St. Matthew. “Because he’s been a go, go, goer for 100 years now, and all of a sudden, nobody can come in to see him. He is almost locked in that prison of his house that he built years ago for him and his wife. But that doesn’t stop his love for his family.”

Members of the church sent him more than 140 birthday cards over the last few weeks and organized the parade.

“We have been over there as he’s getting them,” Mussen said. “And he’s been saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting all of these cards.’

“A lot of them are from the kids at St. Matthew and they’ve really worked really hard on them. It is so cool. He loves it.”

Curry lost his wife, Marie, in 1999 at the age of 75. He has two children, eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great grandson.

“Just a great guy, who loves his country, loves his Lord, and loves his kids,” Grulke said. “He can’t be more proud of his faith and his family and his friends who will do anything for them.”

Oakland County Sheriffs Deputy Sean Galloway stopped his motorcycle in front of Curry’s house.

“Hey birthday boy,” Galloway said. “On behalf of the Oakland County Sheriffs Office, I want to present this flag to you. Here you go, young man.”

He presented a giant flag on a pole.

Deputy Sandra Ostrand gave him some balloons and a chocolate cake.

There’s a great story behind that cake. The deputies picked it up at Costco and planned to pay for it out of their own pocket. But when they were at the cash register, somebody picked up the tab.

Some stranger.

I mean, how cool is that?

If there has been one sliver of goodness to come out of this pandemic, in the midst of so much pain and uncertainty, it is how many people have done so many wonderful things for one another.

When the parade was done, Galloway drove his motorcycle back to Curry’s house. He put on a pair of rubber gloves and a mask.

“Thank you for your service!” Galloway said, shaking Curry’s hand.

Curry sat there, with that tender smile.

“It was fabulous,” Curry said. “Glorious. Unexpected.”

Maybe, nobody hugged him.

But it sure felt like they did. An entire community.