Balloon release inspires statewide birthday card shower

By Josette Keelor

MAURERTOWN — Helen McCracken has received birthday cards from all around Virginia from well-wishers she’s never met.

One card reads simply, “Happy Birthday Helen,” written on pink construction paper using purple crayon. The card was sent by a girl named Beth, who just started school, and her mother Landy C. of Newtown. Beth and her mother wrote McCracken after finding a balloon from Dutch Haven Assisted Living in Maurertown that held a note requesting well wishes for McCracken’s 83rd birthday on Aug. 26.

So far, from the 20 to 24 balloons launched in her name, seven cards and a letter have arrived in the mail.

The idea started with Elizabeth “Liz” Rogers. A private sitter at Dutch Haven, she said the balloon launch was a way of doing something “real special” for McCracken’s birthday.

Attached to each pink, blue or green balloon was a business card from Sara Darnell, executive director of Dutch Haven, with a request Rogers wrote on the back asking for cards, names and locations from those who find the balloons.

Traveling 132 miles to get to McCracken was a card from Merle and Nancy Perry of Champlain, reading “Hope you have a very happy birthday with lots more to come” and a letter explaining that Merle Perry found the balloon while working near Bealton.

“What a very great thing to do!” Nancy Perry wrote in the letter. “We hope the assisted living that our mother is in does the same thing.”

According to Darnell, the cards “keep coming in, like every day, which is nice.”

Other balloons were found as close as Rappahannock County and as far away as Hustle, in Caroline County.

Said Rogers, “It made her day, it really did. This is just so moving, so wonderful that people would do this.”

McCracken managed a farm and fruit orchard for many years in Romney, West Virginia, raising her six children and two nephews there.

Now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, McCracken lived for three years at Greenfield Senior Living’s Reflections of Strasburg under Darnell’s care before switching facilities and later rejoining Darnell at Dutch Haven.

“She’s like family and the residents think of her like family,” Darnell said. “If she says something to them, they make a big deal out of it ’cause she’s talking.”

On her birthday, staff and residents celebrated with McCracken, singing happy birthday to her and enjoying a double chocolate cake. They released balloons in the parking lot at 257 Toll House Road, with McCracken’s daughter Elizabeth Golden, who visited from South Carolina for the weekend.

Still hoping for more cards from the balloon release, Rogers said she’s already started to plan what she might do a little differently for McCracken’s 84th birthday next year.

“I think it’s just awesome that we got to celebrate her birthday, you know?” Rogers said. “And everybody just jumped in. That’s what made it so much, you know, everybody was so excited, and she was excited too. She was laughing and smiling the whole entire time.”

“That made it so much more.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>