You Only Turn 90 Once

A Different Kind of Birthday

Amanda Cass  |   Monday Jun. 1st, 2020

Birthdays. Love them or hate them, or avoid them all together. But they will keep coming as long as the Earth rotates the sun and our hearts keep beating.
Rod Roys has had 90 of them.

A Bozeman native and former Bozeman City firefighter, Roys is an avid sports fan. He was a star basketball player for the Bozeman High School Hawks, and continued to pursue his love of sports throughout his life in both golf and softball. A natural adventure-seeker, Roys would regularly go snowmobiling with a group of friends in the mountains surrounding Gallatin Valley. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Rod “Lightning” Roys (or, “Lightning Rod,” according to his grandson) raced stock cars for over 30 years at the old Gallatin Speedway on Jackrabbit Lane in Belgrade. And he excelled at it. It was not uncommon to see his name in print touting his latest victory. His family said that it got to be “kind of a joke” because he won so many races and received a plethora of trophies, that he eventually started giving the trophies back to be recycled for a future winner, as his trophy case was already overflowing. While he no longer drives, Rod is still an ardent car enthusiast today.

Turning 90 is an incredible accomplishment and deserves the celebration of a [near] century. But things are a little different now. When Covid-19 swept the globe and government regulations dictated our new daily life, a large party was no longer an option. Highgate Senior Living, where Rod currently lives, was closed to all visitors except for essential healthcare workers. Any in- person meetings were to be held outside and from a safe six-foot distance. Given the parameters, Rod’s family was feeling the challenge of still making his 90th birthday meaningful under the circumstances.

Refusing to let this milestone pass without proper pomp and circumstance, Highgate, together with his family and a collection of generous community partners, coordinated a surprise classic car parade for Rod. Three generations of his family and many of his resident friends gathered (physically-distanced) outside to see over 20 classic cars from the Bridger Mountain Ford Club lined up in the community parking lot and to wish Rod a happy birthday. Of course there were cupcakes, and Rod donned a blue “birthday boy” ribbon pinned to his plaid. Out of his left breast pocket poked a white and gold party horn next to his glasses and a pen.

And was he ever surprised. “I was sitting in the living room and [Karrie] grabs me by the arm and said, ‘c’mon, Rod, you’re supposed to be outside,’ so I went out there with her and there they all were,” Roys remembered with a smile on his face. Aside from not being able to hug his loved ones, he says, “there was only one bad thing about it; I couldn’t get my own car in [the parade]. Those old timers are still running.” When asked how he can top this year’s birthday celebration, he replied, “It was really nice. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do next year.”

Daughter Deb Gertiser was thrilled with the turnout. “The biggest transition for Dad has been letting go of being able to drive; cruising Bozeman in his ‘65 Ford T-Bird was his favorite pastime. Dad drove in stock car races for many decades, along with spending the past 20 years finding and restoring various old vintage cars. As one guy said, he’s a ‘gear head’ turning 90!” She then added, “Highgate went above and beyond organizing the custom car show birthday celebration in honor of Dad’s 90th birthday.”

“It was great to see the community come together to celebrate a milestone birthday for our resident. Rod is part of our Highgate family and we are happy we could help facilitate a meaningful and memorable moment for him,” said Stephen Beaudoin, Executive Director of Highgate Bozeman.

Local car enthusiast and Bridger Mountain Ford Club member, Dennis Franks, pitched the idea to his fellow club members and many of them jumped at the chance to be a part of this unique celebration. “The crew really had a great time seeing all those smiling faces,” said Franks. Cars, trucks, and even a vintage bus circled the parking lot passing Rod and his family twice before parking so spectators could get a closer look, and BMFC club members were happy to answer questions and talk shop with guests.

During the global health crisis, senior living communities were challenged with keeping residents engaged and connected in creative ways while keeping their sensitive populations safe. Many of the local senior living communities employed similar tactics to keep residents from feeling isolated. Video calls with loved ones, one-on-one visits with staff, hallway bingo and door-to- door happy hours were some of the most popular activities. Weather permitting – and we all know it can change on a dime here in Bozeman – outdoor concerts with physically-distanced seating took place, as well as Cinco de Mayo parties and daily outdoor exercise classes. “Window visits” also became prevalent during the restrictions, so family members could see their loved ones safely in person.

Life has changed as we know it. While no one is certain what the new future will look like long term, one thing we can be sure of is that birthdays will continue to be celebrated despite the challenges. We have been thrust into an era of creativity, to push ourselves to think outside the box and find new ways to show people we care. It may mean simplifying our lives, more active listening to others and a lot more patience, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. 

About the Author(s)

Amanda Cass

Amanda Cass is a seasoned copywriter, brand strategist and hospitality/restaurant marketing expert. When she’s not writing or behind a computer, you can find her hitting the trails with her husband and dogs, or on her small farm tending to her chickens.

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