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helen marchetti 95thPHOTO:  Former Mayor Helen Marchetti greets well-wishers on her 95th birthday.  (photo courtesy Allyson in Windowland)

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – “Only in Atlantic Highlands!” “Only in Atlantic Highlands”  was all a very surprised and delighted former Mayor Helen Marchetti could say when literally a large percentage of the town turned out to wish her a Happy 95th Birthday Tuesday.

Because of the pandemic, residents and friends knew they could not see the former mayor or help her celebrate her 95th birthday. Instead, they flooded Facebook and e-mails with messages and photos for her, then, prompted by the idea and organization of another former Mayor Randi LeGrice, conducted a vehicular and pedestrian parade at 1 p.m. past the Marchetti home on Center Ave.

Three Mayors were included in the parade, LeGrice, former Mayor Richard Stryker and former Mayor Fred Rast and their spouses, along with dozens of private vehicles, many festooned with ribbons, balloons, and birthday greetings. Included in the parade were police officers and a couple of police cars, a couple of fire trucks, the Fire Marshall, numerous members of the Fire Department as well as the borough’s water and public works members and their vehicles.  Lining the sidewalk were neighbors, pedestrians carrying signs, whistles and toot horns, and scores of children and their pets. All were careful in keeping distance, many shouting greetings to an astonished nonagenarian.  Both Police Chief Dave Rossbach and Administrator Adam Hubeny held down business at police headquarters and the closed Borough Hall, but spoke with Marchetti on the phone to express their own congratulations.

LeGrice said she organized the event at the last minute and was delighted to see it grow to the proportion it did, but just wanted to do something “because of everything she has done for the borough and she wasn’t going to be able to celebrate as she has in the past.”  In commemorative anniversaries of her birthday in past years, Marchetti has hosted a party for her friends at the Shore Casino.

Marchetti, who was born and except for a few years has always lived in the house where the festivities took place Tuesday, refused the offer of a chair from neighbor Brian Dougherty, saying, “no, no, I have to stand to wave to all these people.”

And smiling broadly, that’s what she did. Marchetti waved to every passing car, identifying many of the drivers and their passengers, laughing at some of the signs, and saying over and over, “Only in Atlantic Highlands.”  She graciously accepted a large decorated birthday cake presented to her from Mr. and Mrs. Rast, and a bouquet of balloons presented by the LeGrices. The Strykers, whose regular visits to the former mayor have been cancelled because of the pandemic, also presented her with one of the signs that expressed birthday greetings.  

And a few hours later, she got to see a little bit of the excitement from another angle, when Dougherty had gotten a video of the event captured on the 5 p.m. ABC television News.