To maintain social distancing, the Berkley mom asked people to meet at Rogers Elementary School and stay in their cars for a parade-style format.
It’s been a rough year for the Wittenberg family. Last May, 44th District Court Judge Jamie Wittenberg was diagnosed with brain cancer. His diagnosis was quickly followed by surgery and then rounds of chemotherapy and radiation at Henry Ford Hospital.
Wittenberg, husband of Staci and dad of four daughters ages 10-15, turned 46 on Friday, April 3, right in the middle of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home executive order. The Monday before his birthday, Staci sent out a note to friends and family. “I know our lives have been completely changed; however, we have to celebrate the happy moments, too. That’s why I invite you to Jamie’s ‘Surprise Drive By’ birthday.”
Staci kept the surprise to herself, not even telling her daughters.
To maintain social distancing, the Berkley mom asked people to meet at Rogers Elementary School and stay in their cars for a parade-style format. “Toot your horn, shout out the windows, make notes big or small,” she wrote. “This is something small to put a smile on his face.” She told people there was no pressure to come and to spread the word.
Staci arranged for a Berkley police officer to lead the parade. At 4 p.m., the birthday parade kicked off, but it was no small procession. “The police officer said there were between 150 and 200 cars that came to say happy birthday to Jamie,” Staci said.
Jamie was in the front yard with his family doing yardwork when the parade began to pass by.
Friends, neighbors, co-workers, their daughters’ teachers, clergy from Temple Israel. “It was overwhelming; it was amazing,” said Jamie, who had colleagues drive as long as an hour and a half away to make the parade. “Cars just kept coming and coming.”
Jamie, who said he “hates being the center of attention,” got emotional. “It was the best birthday ever, just knowing how many people supported us.”
During the parade, their daughter’s music teacher serenaded them from the street. People played music and shouted and held out signs and posters. Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny drove by holding out an iPad with Rabbi Harold Loss on FaceTime waving and adding to the celebration.
Wittenberg, who continues to do the court’s business from home, said he has remained pretty positive throughout his illness. “But the parade did boost my spirits.”
Added Staci: “I think it uplifted every single person there.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Rogers Elementary School.