Fifty Memorable Years of April Birthday Celebrations
By Liz Premo
Atlantic News, Thursday, April 25, 2002
HAMPTON — "We never skipped a year," says Mr. Bill Elliot, Hampton's famed "Singing Cop," who turns 97 this coming Sunday, April 28. "It wasn't always the same people, but it was always an April party."
What Mr. Elliot is referring to is the 50 years of annual celebrations enjoyed by himself, his wife Alzena and their Dearborn Avenue neighbors who — besides living on the same street in Hampton — all shared one particular thing in common: Their birthdays occurred during the month of April.
"The club was set up so that either the husband or wife was born in April and lived on Dearborn Avenue," explains Mr. Elliot. If that was the case, he says, then "they were in on the party." And, as people "moved off and on the street, they joined the party, provided their birthday was in April." He adds with a smile, "The party ran for 50 years — every year for 50 years."
According to Mrs. Elliot, who turned 95 this year on April 5, it was the couple's good friend Hazel (Mrs. Norman) Coffin who first suggested having a group birthday party. The year was 1984, and the two women were responsible for organizing the premiere April birthday celebration. They kept everything fairly simple ("We never decorated a lot," says Mrs. Elliot) yet enjoyable, and thanks to the success of that first party, an annual tradition was born.
"There were 16 in the original one," says Mrs. Elliot referring to the first group of celebrants who gathered in Hampton at the Hotel Whittier. They included the Elliots, the Coffins, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Brown, Mr. and Mrs. Leavitt Magrath, Mrs. Ernest Underwood, Mrs. John Brooks, Mr. and Mrs. Douglass Hunter, Mr. and Mrs. Stanwood Brown, and Mr. and Mrs. Carl Bragg.
The group enjoyed a chicken dinner, and "everybody played Kitty Whist," says Mrs. Elliot, referring to a card game which her husband explains was an "origination of Bridge." They had four teams of four players each, and each year the winners received prizes for their card- playing expertise. As was the case for the first gathering and those which followed, notes Mrs. Elliot, "We always had cakes." In addition, other people who happened to be dining at the same restaurant would often approach the group to "offer their best wishes."
[Atlantic News Courtesy Photo]
As the years progressed, some of the faces changed, but the April Birthday Party dynamics remained the same. As Mr. Elliot explains it, "Everyone met at the same place," normally at the Elliots' home. From there a cortege of vehicles followed the "lead car" to whichever restaurant had been selected by the party organizer for that year. Over the decades the destinations included eating spots ranging from Portsmouth and Exeter to Hampton Beach and Newburyport.
"We went all around different places," says Alzena — including, adds her husband, "restaurants that are no longer in business."
The annual celebrations were a hit, and consistently enjoyed by all who were part of the festivities. "I don't think we ever had any complaints," says Mr. Elliot. "We had a lot of fun," his wife adds.
Now, almost 70 years after that very first Dearborn Avenue April Birthday Party, most of the original first-year celebrants are no longer living, with the exception of the Elliots and the Braggs. Cherished memories have been preserved, however, in the form of photographs, newspaper clippings and the words spoken by the Elliots as they reminisce about the joy of the "old days." Th&y recall the group forming the committees for each year's celebration, and chuckle over how everyone would try to guess what the "secret location" of each year's restaurant would be.
But it is their present-day joys which seem to make their smiles grow even broader.
"We've got a great family," Mr. Elliot says. "Great children (Wayne, June [Chevalier] and Holly [Knowles]) and in-laws, marvelous grandchildren (8), and great-grandchildren (16), and great-great-grandchildren (three)."
In fact, many of their beloved family members are expected to join the Elliots when they celebrate an impressive milestone this year: their 75th wedding anniversary on June 8. "They're the greatest family that ever lived," Mr. Elliot says with a warm smile directed toward his wife. "God has been good to us."