ROCKFORD — The family and friends of Rockford resident Alice Johnson spent months planning her 100th birthday party.
There were decorations to make, invitations to send, gifts to buy, and a cake to order.
And then a global pandemic hit.
"We had a room and everything," said Dave Holmertz, 76, who identified himself as the son of Johnson’s cousin. "Then it all fell apart. So, we had to go to Plan B."
Plan B was carried out Tuesday, the day Alice Johnson reached the century mark.
About 20 relatives and friends gathered outside of a first floor window at Wesley Willows, 4141 N. Rockton Ave., which Johnson has called home for the past 20 years.
The group carried signs while singing a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday through their protective face masks.
"I am so surprised and glad to see all of you," Johnson said through a speakerphone. "It’s too bad you can’t all be in here."
Gifts included 100 long-stem roses and a custom-made newspaper featuring headlines from the past century.
Johnson was born and raised in Rockford. Her husband of 57 years, George, died in 2011.
The couple had no children so their extended family made sure Johnson’s milestone birthday was properly observed.
"One of her goals in life was to live to be 100 years old," said Johnson’s nephew Bill Johnson, 57, of Winnebago. "At the time I thought, ‘Boy, that’s a lot of years.’ As we’ve approached this, it’s been amazing at how healthy, alert and sharp she is."
Johnson broke her collarbone in a fall about six months ago, her nephew said. The mishap prompted her to relocate from an apartment on the Wesley Willows campus to full-time assisted living.
"Up until then, she was mobile, she would do jigsaw puzzles, she would go out to lunch with people," Bill Johnson said. "She didn’t even use a walker up until then."
Although the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the partygoers from hugging the birthday girl or even being in the same room with her, those in attendance savored the opportunity to celebrate her special day.
"She has always loved getting together with her husband’s side of the family and her family," Holmertz said. "And she has always been very well dressed. She’s probably the best dressed person in this place."
Johnson’s nephew, Bill, sees some irony in the timing of her milestone, noting that his aunt was born shortly after the Spanish flu pandemic in the early 20th century.
"I don’t think she had any doubt that she was going to live to be 100 years old," Bill Johnson said. "But, I don’t think she ever envisioned a pandemic that would alter what we could do for her today."
Ken DeCoster: firstname.lastname@example.org; @DeCosterKen