Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to email@example.com with the subject “Stepping Up.”
Barbra and Mike Jones had their flight picked out. The Atlanta couple was planning a trip to Washington to celebrate Mike’s father’s birthday. It was a big one. Earle Jones, a World War II vet and retired Boeing engineer, was turning 99 on April 4 and other relatives scattered around the West Coast were slated to help him celebrate.
The airline tickets sat in a digital shopping cart for two days before the couple decided it was too risky, weeks before Gov. Jay Inslee issued his stay-at-home order. But it would be a shame not to do something for the longtime Issaquah resident and patriarch of the family.
“He’s just a wonderful guy,” Barbra said. “He would give a stranger the shirt off his back.”
Inspired by a news story she saw about a 100-year-old veteran being honored with a birthday car parade, Barbra wondered if they could pull off something similar for Earle, a fairly active nonagenarian who, until the COVID-19 pandemic, was still attending prayer breakfasts and having lunch with his old Boeing buddies. Barbra started off “all gung-ho” Thursday morning, reaching out to the local police and fire departments and veterans organizations in hope of putting something together.
With the stock market plummeting, her work days at investment firm Edward Jones have been crazy and Barbra, who has called Earle “dad” for 33 years now, forgot all about it until the phone rang Friday afternoon. It was Cpl. Dustin Huberdeau with the Issaquah Police Department.
“I was blown away,” Barbra said. “He already had it all planned.”
Huberdeau arranged for a squad car to lead the surprise Saturday afternoon parade past Earle’s Squak Mountain home, where he’s lived since 1961 when he started at Boeing. Members of a local veterans group joined the procession and representatives of Eastside Fire & Rescue were on hand. Earle’s son, Jonathan, who lives with and helps care for his father, invited neighbors to come outside and participate, encouraging them to wear masks and keep at least 10 feet apart. Barbra and the rest of the family who couldn’t be there joined the festivities through a Zoom conference call just before the procession began.
Huberdeau coordinated with Earle’s family to ensure that social-distancing guidelines were met and planned to give Earle (taking extra sanitizing precautions) a challenge coin, a token of gratitude his department usually gives to other law-enforcement agencies.
With the novel coronavirus disrupting our lives, Huberdeau thought this would be a way to do something uplifting for the community.
“The time right now isn’t the best on people’s spirits,” Huberdeau said. “We figured that this would be a good, positive thing to celebrate. It’s definitely a good cause for somebody that’s 99 and served for his country. We thought we’d do what we could, a small token to say thank you.”
Since retiring in 1984, Earle’s been active with his Issaquah church and still works in his home metal shop, where he melts aluminum to make crosses from a mold, his family says. Even in his 80s, Earle received a patent for a set of bike pedals he designed to give cyclists more torque power. “That’s the non-scientific layman’s explanation,” Barbra said laughing. “If you asked him about it, you would get a three-hour lecture.”
As a 99-year-old diabetic who recently had a heart attack, Earle is at particularly high risk for the novel coronavirus. Being cooped up the past few weeks has been tough, Jonathan said. But he and his father have been keeping each other’s spirits up playing daily games of gin rummy (even if Earle wins most of the time).
Saturday’s birthday surprise was meant as an even greater boost.
“To be able to go through and help support each other so that we can make it, this is the type of thing that we need to do,” Jonathan said.