Parade fit for a queen: Whatcoat UMC celebrates member’s 102nd birthday

102 year-old Susan Browne waves to passing cars of Whatcoat United Methodist Church members honking their horns and yelling happy birthday in Dover on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery_

DOVER — A steady light rain falling outside couldn’t stop the feeling of warmth and happiness that Susan Browne felt inside when around 30 vehicles filled with family and friends came rolling past her house on McKee Road on Friday morning with balloons attached to them and their horns honking out birthday wishes to her.

As Mrs. Browne said, “You only turn 102 once,” and the impromptu parade by members of Whatcoat United Methodist Church certainly made it a birthday she will never forget.

“I was really surprised,” said Mrs. Browne. “I had no idea anybody would bother to do anything like that for an old lady (laughing). It was both special — and quite a surprise.”

102 year-old Susan Browne waves to passing cars of Whatcoat United Methodist Church members honking their horns and yelling happy birthday in Dover on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Leave it to Sheila Griffin, her niece, for getting the surprise off without a hitch. Her daughter drove her down to Mrs. Browne’s house and they got her to come outside to her driveway as the parade took off from Whatcoat, about a half of a mile to the south of Mrs. Browne’s home.

“I’m going down there to get her out of the house, and she won’t know what’s going to happen,” said Mrs. Griffin, before the parade began. “(Mrs. Browne) is my aunt. She walks every day. She’s 102, but she walks every single day. She’s very special to the church because she still drives and even has her own parking space. She’s very active. She still dances. She’s just an extraordinary 60-year-old woman (with a laugh).

“This is going to be a surprise for her because she doesn’t expect anybody to come out.”

Whatcoat United Methodist church members honking their horns and yelling happy birthday to 102 year-old Susan Browne in Dover on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Turhan Potter Sr., pastor at Whatcoat United Methodist Church, knew he had to do something special for Mrs. Browne, considering the extraordinary legacy she has built throughout her life in Kent County.

That proved to be quite a challenge in this age of social distancing amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We are very excited,” Pastor Potter said. “Sister Browne has been a member of our church for about 69 or 70 years. She’s witty and she’s very caring, she’s energetic, and we’re just so excited. We have several members who have longevity here at our church and she’s one of those. She drives to church on her own and she participates, and she is just a wonderful person. I’m so happy to celebrate her.”

Mrs. Browne has a lot of things she has accomplished in her more than a century on Earth that are worth celebrating.

A native Delawarean, she was born in Lincoln and went to Delaware State College (University) to attend high school before she returned to earn her B.A. in Elementary Education, graduating in 1945. She went on to teach at Ellendale Elementary School, John Wesley in Milford before moving to Lockwood Elementary School in Hartly, where she taught for 12 years.

At Lockwood Elementary, Mrs. Browne taught grades one through six, rotating her time at each level, and even transported several of her students from home to school and back in her station wagon. She continued the service until the state provided a bus.

She ended her teaching career at Fairview Elementary School in 1977 after completing 30 years of service to children.

Mrs. Browne said she has been blessed with two “wonderful children,” James W. Young, Jr., a retired high school counselor, and Dr. Lynnette Y. Overby, an administrator at the University of Delaware. She also has four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

During her time as a member of Whatcoat United Methodist she has held several positions within the church.

Her favorite Bible scripture is Psalm 24, which is generally known by its first verse, “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof,” and her favorite hymn is “How Much We Can Bear.”

Her favorite people are, obviously, the members of the Whatcoat congregation, along with her family.

“I have never had anything like this (a parade) on my birthday,” Mrs. Browne said Friday. “I’m still feeling very surprised and grateful for everyone who came out to see me and wish me a happy birthday.”

The number of folks that were eager to get involved in the parade didn’t surprise Pastor Potter.

“We’re just excited because we love our members here at Whatcoat,” he said, “and when I had the idea of putting this together, members just jumped on it right away and said we want to come and support her. They certainly accomplished that.”

And left a 102-year-old birthday girl very happy — and almost speechless.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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