BILLINGS — Alice Lyon was surprised by a parade filled with fire trucks and honking cars that drove by her Billings apartment building Sunday afternoon to help celebrate her 90th birthday.
“Totally overwhelming. I had no idea. This was not ahead in my day plan," Alice said.
Alice has been living in Billings since 1952. Her family and friends helped organize the parade because they couldn't throw a traditional party because of risk from COVID-19.
“We knew she should have a 90th birthday party, then COVID-19 hit. So how can we make a 90th birthday party? And it kind of went from there," said Joyce Jensen, Alice's friend and parade organizer.
Jensen also credited Peggy O'brien, and Jenny Jasper for making the surprise come together. The parade group staged in the Billings Studio Theater parking lot, then made its way down Poly Drive to pass by Alice's apartment.
The parade was lead by two Billings fire trucks provided by Alice's son Jason Lyon, who is a Billings fire fighter. The trucks passed by and blared a message saying "happy birthday Alice, we love you," over one of the trucks intercoms.
Alice waved to the parade from the sidewalk and blew everyone kisses.
“It was overwhelming because it was totally unexpected. If I had planned it myself it couldn’t have been nicer, really," Alice said.
Dozens of cars followed the fire trucks with passengers carrying signs and drivers honking their horns. Some even made multiple trips around the block to wave hello.
“It feels weird to make a huge milestone like this and then not be able to celebrate it how it should be," said Jason. “There were so many people in the Billings Studio Theater parking lot that didn’t have a connection to each other other than their connection to Alice. And it was really neat getting to hear their stories that they talked about as they met each other for the first time. It was breathtaking.”
There was more excitement ahead for Alice later in the day. She had plans to head over to Horseshoe Hills to visit an old neighbor to take a ride on a horse.
“The big thing of the day, after I had gotten home from virtual church, was that I wanted to get on a horse for my 90th birthday. We used to live out in Horseshoe Hills. The people who were our neighbors and their son and daughter and law live in our house. And they said ‘well, we can put you on a horse anytime.’ And I said wait till my 90th. If I make it to my 90th, I just want to sit on a horse and I will be happy," Alice said.
Alice moved to Billings in 1952. She said she had three criteria when picking out a place to live after moving away from her parents in Minnesota.
“First, I had to have a job. And thanks to Mike Gallagher, I was hired in the Billings school system. And there had to be a place I could keep my horse, because I brought a horse out from Minnesota in 1952. And third, it was on the Northern Pacific (railroad) line. Because my dad was the advertising manager of the Northern Pacific. And he and mom had free passes. And I was a very immature 22 year old and I wanted to be close to them," Alice said.
After arriving in Billings, Alice taught music at Lincoln Junior High School and then Lockwood Elementary School. She has also been a member of the First United Methodist Church helping to teach music since 1952.
"I was thinking this morning about sitting in the train depot the morning I pulled in. In September I came out here to teach. I picked up a paper copy of the Billings Gazette that was sitting next to me, and they had listed all the teachers in town. And there was my name as one of the brand new teachers. And I thought wow if I could have looked ahead all these years. 1952, that was another century. But there have been an awful lot of people who have helped me get here and a lot of them are here today," Alice said.
About her longevity, Alice said staying active has got her this far.
“But if you keep moving, that’s the most important, moving, singing, laughing. I really believe in the power of the brain and the body working together. It has to be. And faith and love and all those things that people talk about but they don’t always look into. And I think it’s pretty terrific. And thank you all who are here," Alice said.
Members of the Billings First United Methodist Church put together this video to wish Alice a happy 90th birthday