Not the typical birthday, three Alexandrians celebrate with drive-by parties

Birthday 3088.jpg
A birthday banner and sign were held up for Woody Schwarze during a drive-by birthday party Saturday, April 4. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

As Woody Schwarze of Alexandria sat in his driveway on Saturday afternoon, a couple of family members he wasn't expecting showed up.

As did hundreds of other guests – via their vehicles.

Schwarze, who has Down syndrome, had planned on celebrating his 34th birthday on April 4 with a party at Pizza Ranch, his favorite restaurant. However, Minnesota's stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus pandemic had ruined those plans.

Enter Helping Hands of Alexandria. In a post dated March 28, Nattiel Dammer said Schwarze was sad because he couldn't have his birthday party this year. She requested that people not only mail him a birthday card, but also participate in a drive-by birthday party.

The cards had to be sent by a certain date so they could be quarantined before being given to him. Those who wanted to participate in the birthday surprise drive-by just had to show up at Shalom Lutheran Church at 12:45 p.m. on the day of his birthday.


Woody Schwarze, an Alexandria man, sits in his driveway Saturday, April 4, as more than 100 vehicles drive by to wish him a 34th birthday. Dozens of birthday cards, pictured in front of him, were mailed to him from all over the United States. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)

And boy did they show up. For more than 15 minutes, a steady stream of vehicles slowly drove by Schwarze, who sat in a lawn chair in the driveway waving and smiling. Honking horns could be heard around the whole neighborhood.

Signs big and small were held out passenger-side windows. Kids popped up through sunroofs with waves and shouts of "Happy Birthday!" Balloons hanging out car windows danced in the wind. A clown on a motorcycle stopped and dropped off a package. Doug Jasken from DJs Tap House dropped off food from the restaurant and treats from Dairy Queen.

Someone even dressed up as a bear and waved excitedly from the vehicle as it went by.

It may not have been the birthday Schwarze was expecting, but it was a birthday like none other he has had, prompting smiles from him the whole time, along with waves to all his well-wishers.

Afterward, Schwarze said the surprise party was “pretty crazy” and that he was not expecting all the hoopla. It was probably one of the best birthdays he’s ever had, he said. Although he is not sure what he will do next year, it will probably involve going to Pizza Ranch.

When asked if anything could top this year’s birthday, he thought about it, before saying, “Not unless you can get Brock Lesnar to come!”
Schwarze also thanked everyone that was a part of his day.


His mom, Sue Schwarze, posted afterward on the Helping Hands Facebook page:

“Wow! How do we even begin to thank everyone for the outpouring of love for Woody’s birthday? There were 152 cards from over the U.S., Sweden and Australia. About 110 vehicles in the parade, plus texts, messages, phone calls, gifts and treats … a birthday none of us will ever forget. We know Woody won’t. Thank you from all of us!”

People care

When Katy Perhus saw the information on the birthday drive-by for Schwarze, she contacted Dammer to see if the “parade” could continue along County Road 22 just a bit further. Her granddaughter, Zanika Hanson, also had a birthday the same day and lives about three blocks from Schwarze.

Perhus said Hanson, who has a compromised immune system, was celebrating her first double-digit birthday. Although she understood she couldn’t have a “normal” birthday party, Hanson was still sad about it, said her grandma.

“She had such a wonderful time,” Perhus said of the birthday surprise for her granddaughter. “She kept saying she didn’t know all these people that kept driving by. I told her it’s because people care, people care about her, and that is why they came.”

Hanson got another surprise when her family all chipped in and bought her a Chromebook.

Birthday Zanika.jpg
Zanika Hanson celebrated her 10th birthday Saturday, April 4, with a surprise party that consisted of people driving by her house, honking and holding signs out the passenger side windows. (Contributed)


A positive, memorable birthday

When Rychel Larson of Alexandria thought about her son’s upcoming birthday, she wondered how she could make March 29 a positive and memorable birthday. Carver Larson was hitting a big milestone – he was becoming a teenager. March 29 was his 13th birthday.

Larson said she did some searching on Google and saw that others were doing drive-by birthdays. She decided that is what she would do for her son. She made signs, got balloons, and made a birthday cake.

Carver Larson of Alexandria, pictured with his family, celebrated his 13th birthday with a homemade pumpkin bundt cake and a drive-by surprise birthday party. (Submitted)

Larson also sent messages to family and friends inviting them to do the drive-by birthday celebration for her son and suggested they bring signs or balloons or play birthday music.

“The turnout and creativity were phenomenal. His friends really went above and beyond making his day extremely special,” said Larson. “We had close to 100 visitors stop by between noon and 6 p.m. It was so enjoyable to be outside and ‘see’ people again.”

The Discovery Middle School seventh-grader didn’t know about the surprise party. He thought he was just going to spend the day with his family – his mom, Rychel; dad, Shannon; and 16-year-old sister, Cora – at home playing ping pong or darts.


“I was really happy. I hadn’t seen my friends in more than 14 days,” Carver Larson said. “I was surprised. This was something I hadn’t heard of. But it was fun.”

Although it wasn’t a typical birthday for her son, Rychel Larson said it will be a birthday her son will definitely remember.

Carver Larson of Alexandria stands by signs outside his home on March 29, the day of his 13th birthday. (Submitted)

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
What To Read Next
Get Local