By Peggy Bair
Gettin’ By With a Little Help from Their Friends
Two friends who have shared a birthday lunch together for decades were not able to do that today due to a COVID-19 stay-at-home order – but one woman wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to make the day special for them anyway.
By coincidence, the two friends met 20-some years ago and discovered that they had been born the same month, the same day, the same year. J.B. Baldwin of Leavenworth, KS, and Wilbur Ferguson of neighboring town Lansing, KS, have been involved with the Richard Allen Cultural Center in Leavenworth for over 20 years together as board members and president. The two have also celebrated their birthdays together every year with a birthday lunch.
Edna Wagner, executive director, of the Richard Allen Cultural Center, said she had always joked with two men about their birthday lunches. “I teased them all the time I was going to one day crash their birthdays,” she said.
“Well, today I knew that they weren’t going to be able to have their normal lunch that they have together,” said Wagner. “”It was on my mind all night. I thought ‘I have to do this,'” she decided. “In the morning when I woke up, I thought ‘You know what? They’re going to be locked in and so closed off,” she said.
That wasn’t going to be suitable to Wagner.
The morning of their birthday, she hatched a plan, calling the other board members of the Richard Allen Cultural Center to meet in the empty parking lot at the IHop in Lansing, KS. Other friends chimed in that they wanted to come, too. About 20 vehicles – cars and motorcycles with colorfully masked drivers met in the parking lot with signs and balloons.
Forming a caravan, they filed off to Wilbur Ferguson’s house in Lansing and lined the curbs along the street, piled out of their cars, spread out and were furiously waving as Wilbur and his wife Ellen came to the door of their house to see what the commotion was about. A neighbor across the street looked up from his yard work and smiled at the scene.
Voices lifted in a harmonious Happy Birthday song. Wilbur called out the names of his friends, pointed and waved back as he studied who was who behind the masks across the yard.
Then the caravan revved their engines again and headed off a few miles on the other side to north Leavenworth to surprise James “JB” Baldwin and his wife, Dora. Stepping out his front steps, Baldwin’s smiles and waves turned to a bowed head and tears, as the friends sang Happy Birthday, filling the little block in the neighborhood with song. Balloons were planted out front and pictures were snapped.
Later, Wagner talked about how the present orders to stay-at-home and social-distance was reforming how people connect in a world where staying safe means staying distant.
“There’s a lesson learned in this for all of us,” Wagner said. “Not taking things for granted and just opening our eyes to a whole new world. We can do something about it. We can bring a smile to somebody’s face. We have to look for something positive out of a negative so we can move forward.”
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Peggy Bair is a longtime area journalist credentialed with the American Society of Media Photographers Kansas City branch. She holds a journalism degree from UMKC and has written and photographed for six different newspapers over a 24 year career as a journalist and an award-winning photojournalist with the National Press Photographers Association. Her work has appeared also in USA Today, People Magazine and worldwide via Associated Press.
“I value every one of my story subjects for the honor of sharing them with the world. I believe every person is here for a reason and every person has a lesson to teach and a story to tell” – Peggy Bair
Social distancing is practiced and wearing a mask as well as photographing with a long lens are best practices employed at this time. A 300mm lens was used for this assignment. Subjects in the story practiced safe social distancing even though they may appear in some photographs to be closer together. This is due to an illusion of compression that results from using a very long lens like a 300mm.