By kristine cannon
Progress Staff Writer
rom her driveway, Scottsdale resident Maria Abramo waved to the seemingly never-ending line of cars decorated with balloons and “happy birthday” signs.
Oct. 6 marked Abramo’s 104th birthday and to celebrate, her insurance company, UnitedHealthcare, hosted a surprise drive-by parade that she continued to relive for days following.
“I took a little video and I showed her the video a couple of days ago. As soon as she saw that, she started raising her hands again and waving to the cars,” her son, Vincent Abramo, said.
Organized by employees of UnitedHealthcare, the parade included 41 vehicles and a motorcycle.
“When her case manager learned about our member Maria’s monumental birthday, she felt inspired to do something that would make Maria feel really special and connected to the community,” said Jean Kalbacher, CEO Community Plan of Arizona.
“What better way to convey her importance in an environment of social distancing than with a car parade, just for her!”
While Vincent and the rest of the family knew about the parade in advance, they were still surprised by how many people participated.
“It was a surprise for me because I didn’t expect it to be that big. It was noisy. It got my neighbors out,” he said.
The Abramo family’s original birthday celebration for Maria was much lower-key.
Vincent said they planned to have family members come in waves to visit Maria.
“It was a little difficult planning it because of the coronavirus,” Vincent said. “They’d come on the same day, but at different times and wearing masks and things like that, to protect her.”
Maria’s 100th birthday celebration, however, did have the entire family in attendance.
“We had beautiful pictures taken with all the family, and I have a picture at my house, a big picture of that. It was a big deal for everybody,” Vincent said.
Maria lives with Vincent in Scottsdale and he has taken care of her for 22 years.
After a stroke at 82, Maria lived in a nursing home but soon after moved in with Vincent.
“It’s a pleasure and an honor to be able to give her the opportunity to live this long and experience life,” Vincent said, adding that he attributes her long life to being around family.
“That gives her a purpose and a reason to stay alive,” Vincent said. “I put my dad in a nursing home, but he passed away after about four years. He was strong. He was healthy.”
Family is important to Maria and the Abramo family.
One of their family traditions is gathering around the table on Sunday nights for spaghetti dinner.
“She was a very hardworking lady committed to her family. She always had a spaghetti dinner for us on Sundays for the family to come,” Vincent said of his mom, who immigrated from Italy in 1980. “Family was No. 1 for her.”
Now, Sunday dinners are hosted by Vincent’s sister.
“We go to my sister’s house now on Sundays, and she’s the one that cooks spaghetti. The tradition is still going,” Vincent said.
After the surprise drive-by parade, Maria said the experience gave her so much life and joy, she hopes to live to 107.
“’Hopefully they’ll do it next year,’” Vincent added.
“It’s important for us to take care of each and every one of our members, especially during a pandemic, when so many older adults are feeling isolated,” Kalbacher said.
“That was awesome,” Vincent said of the parade. “It was something bigger than what I and my family expected.”