While COVID-19 has put a halt on gatherings such as birthdays, some Villagers are getting creative in order to celebrate and stay safe.

Mary Cushman, longtime resident of Tellico Village, celebrated her 92nd birthday April 7.

Having a birthday during COVID-19 can be a lonely affair, but Cushman was anything but lonely. One of her friends, Joan Francis, another longtime resident of Tellico Village, organized a way for Cushman to be surrounded by loved ones during her special celebration — a drive-by birthday party.

“There was a couple that got married in Knoxville, and they couldn’t have their reception,” Francis said. “… So they stood on their lawn and cars drove by to wish them well. I thought, ‘What a great way to get both social distancing in a safe way and make someone that’s 92 a special birthday,’ because anybody’s birthday’s going to be a drag over this time of not being able to have folks in and have a big ole birthday party.”

The drive-by party was a success, with many Villagers wishing Cushman a happy birthday from the safety of cars and golf carts.

“(Francis) called me last week and asked, said she wanted to do something, but she needed my permission from me,” Cushman said. “I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about, and I have a big curiosity bone. … Having all the people drive by, it was a wonderful way to have a birthday celebration. It was just marvelous.”

The Tellico Village Volunteer Fire Department even made an appearance in a truck. Firefighters sounded sirens and waved as they drove past Cushman’s house.

Cushman relaxed in a lawn chair with a beverage as friends and neighbors celebrated.

“I thought, ‘Well, if people are going to come by, I need to dress up,’ and I did dress up, and I’m glad I did,” she said. “I’m glad I just wasn’t out in my usual sort of everyday stuff.”

The birthday celebration didn’t stop with the drive-by.

“I don’t like to cook anymore,” Cushman said. “The people next door brought my dinner over. Dee Brandt brought my dinner over. She called me and brought over a wonderful dinner, delicious. I have two daughters. My younger daughter called me. I had a very good birthday for all that I’m staying home, and I really am staying home. … I guess we all have to. It’s a bit of a bore, but you know I’ve always been a very positive person, and I don’t get depressed. I miss people, and I miss getting out. I think it’s going to go on forever — it feels like it’s going on forever.”

Cushman moved into the Village in 1989 shortly after the community started. She has been a part of the founding of many clubs and organizations, such as the community concerts, the Community Church at Tellico Village choir, the women’s club and the social committee with the Tellico Village HomeOwners Association.

She was awarded the inaugural Tellico Village award for excellence in 2000.

“She knows so much about (the Village), and she’s very knowledgeable,” Francis said. “She’s just so very sharp. She’s just a pleasure to have in our solo group, and she’s been in many, many groups over the years.”

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