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Community helps Island Park woman throw surprise party for her husband — from a social distance

Coronavirus doesn't curb birthday celebration

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On St. Patrick’s Day, Dolores and Edward Hofman discovered how lucky they were to be surrounded by the kind of neighbors that they have.

Dolores, 73, and Edward, 75, are isolating themselves from the community amid the coronavirus outbreak because their age puts them at a high risk to contract the disease. As a result, Dolores was discouraged because her husband’s 75th birthday was on March 17, and the pandemic caused her to cancel her surprise for him, which was in keeping with their tradition of making one another’s milestone birthdays special.

Then she hatched a plan.

Dolores went from home to home in her neighborhood on March 16, stuffing envelopes with shamrocks on them into mailboxes of people she knew and others that she didn’t know along the canal their properties share on Suffolk Road and Washington Avenue in Harbor Isle. The letters requested the community’s help in celebrating her husband’s birthday by coming outside on their decks to sing happy birthday and share a toast to Edward at 6:30 p.m. on March 17.

To her surprise, about 20 homeowners joined in on the celebration.

“I started to cry happy tears,” Dolores said. “I couldn’t believe all of those people who I never met before in my life were there.”

The touching moment was not the birthday she and Edward originally planned, but she said it ended up being a memory she will cherish. Dolores won a cruise to the Bahamas for 10 people in a silent auction at an event for her theater group, and she and Edward planned to fly down to their condominium in Florida on March 13. Three days later, they were to leave for the four-day cruise, and on St. Patrick’s Day, Edward’s birthday, they were to attend a gala on the boat.

The trip was canceled, however, once coronavirus cases continued to climb. With her and Ed being at-risk seniors, Dolores knew she had to come up with an idea to keep their tradition alive.

“I was racking my brain,” she said. “We can’t invite anyone over. We’re not going out anywhere. What can I do? Being the age we are, we’re at high risk, so I’m not leaving my house.”

Then, on the eve of her husband’s birthday, an idea hit her. Wearing protective gloves and attempting to avoid people, Dolores raced to her office at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, where she works as a program manager. Once there, she hunkered in her office and typed the letter for her neighbors, then purchased a cake, decorations and flowers for Edward on her way home and hoped that the community would read the letter.

“For those that don’t know me, I live right on this block and was hoping that you could help bring a smile to my husband, Ed’s, face tomorrow for his 75th birthday,” Dolores wrote. “It’s a very special birthday, as no one else in his family made it to 75 years old.”

The community came through, helping surprise her husband, and one of their neighbors — whom the couple had not previously met — came over before the surprise, wished Edward a happy birthday, and gifted him a bottle of wine. He graciously accepted the bottle, baffled by how a stranger knew when his birthday was. Come 6:30 that evening, it all clicked when his wife’s plan came into place.

“I thought she was out of her mind and I said, ‘This is crazy,’” Edward said. “When everyone was out there, they got really into it and it was a big party. It definitely made my day.”

The Hofmans have lived in Island Park for 28 years. They met at a bar in Hempstead after Edward asked Dolores to dance on a bet from his friends, who wagered she would decline. She obliged, they hit it off and they went on to date for four years before getting married. Dolores’s mother told her she could not wed until she was 21, which happened on May 3, 1968. They tied the knot 27 days later on May 30.

Because they never had children, the Hofmans made a pact to go above and beyond for each other on milestone birthdays. Over the years, the celebrations have ranged from cruises to surprise parties with friends and family to holiday-themed gatherings, such as St. Patrick’s Day for Edward because his birthday falls on the holiday, and Cinco de Mayo for Dolores, whose birthday is two days before.

Dolores recalled her 50th birthday, and the great lengths her husband went to in order to keep it a surprise. Edward decided to throw her a surprise party one month before her birthday at Chateau Briand Caterers in Westbury. On her way over there with her sister, Dolores was under the impression that the party was for her friend’s surprise 50th birthday.

“I remember telling my sister how extravagant his wife was for having it there, and here I was talking about my own party,” she said with a laugh. “He walked on water for the next year after that one.”

When the time came for this year’s modified milestone celebration, Dolores flew a St. Patrick’s Day flag, a 75-year-old birthday balloon and a sign that said, “The party is here” outside their home. One of her neighbors set up music for the community to enjoy during the celebration, and the group drank a toast to Edward.

Though they can't go out during the pandemic, Dolores said the couple is enjoying one another’s company and joked that she has increased her online shopping. She said that when the coronavirus finally subsides, she hopes to have the community over for another party, this time in-person, and in the meantime, her goal is to institute nightly toasts outside. The one for Edward’s birthday, she added, meant a great deal to her.

“It was the most heartwarming thing that a community ever could do,” Dolores said. “It brought so much joy to us.”