Gray skies didn’t dampen the glow on Anne Fiyalka’s face on the occasion of her 100th birthday. Not only did she turn 100, but 100 cars of well wishers paraded past her house to toast a beloved community member on her birthday.
Cheryl Constand, a friend and Eucharistic minister from Notre Dame Parish, stopped by in the morning to administer Holy Communion. A Eucharistic minister herself, Anne has distributed the rite countless times to shut-ins who couldn’t get to church.
Her daughter Andrea, son Arnold and granddaughter Allison were by her side to celebrate her long life. And celebrate they did, all day, from start to finish. Her son Arther and grandsons Brett and Tyler bestowed their birthday wishes virtually.
“I”m just sorry I couldn’t be with her, but I’m thankful so many friends showed up for the drive-by parade,” Arthur said.
Anne moved to Easton as a widow with school age children 45 years ago and stayed active and engaged in community affairs until the pandemic clipped her wings. But not for long. She will receive her second Covid vaccine dose later this week. She hopes to be out and about in the not-too-distant future.
She made countless friends over the years and always put others first. “Easton is my family,” Anne said. The tremendous turnout shows the feeling is mutual.
“Anne was sitting in the convertible wearing a tiara and a big smile,” Sheila Weaver, one of her many friends, said. “It was a wonderful tribute and happy day.”
Planning the Big Day
At the beginning of January, Jeanine Pagliaro asked Michelle Falcone, who coordinates the Bible Study group at Notre Dame Church, if she knew of any plans for Anne Fiyalka’s 100th birthday. She did not, but she reached out to Cheryl Constand, who volunteers at the Easton Senior Center and at Notre Dame. Cheryl said the Senior Center had no plans yet, and Cheryl brought in Maryellen Diana, another Senior Center volunteer, to help with planning. Chris Linley, another Notre Dame volunteer, joined in, and our little birthday committee was underway.
“A drive-by birthday parade seemed an obvious choice, but we wanted to make it a little more special since this is a huge birthday milestone,” Pagliaro said. “I asked Anne if she would be home on the big day and if she was okay with the parade, and she responded with an emphatic ‘yes! to both. She was disappointed that she could not host an in-person birthday party for herself, which she had done for her 90th and 95th birthdays, and the parade gave her something to look forward to.”
Committee members each had tasks and checked in with each other through e-mails, texts, and a Zoom call. They ordered a Critter Yard Card, purple streamers, a 100th birthday banner, a 100th birthday guest book, and some birthday “bling” (a 100th birthday tiara, mask, and sash).
Maryellen made the flyer and sent it to the Senior Center for printing and distribution, and she coordinated a balloon arrangement and asked Easton EMS to join the parade. Michelle coordinated with First Selectman Dr. Bindleglass and bought a beautiful box to put birthday cards in and some “fathead” photos of Anne’s face to hand out to people.
Cheryl handled the logistics of planning the day and contacted Easton police. Chris put together a gift basket from Notre Dame parish and the Rev. Michael Lyons, pastor. Everyone sent around e-mails and made calls to get the word out.
“We set everything up, but when Anne fell, we paused in case we had to postpone the celebration,” Jeanine said. “Thankfully, Anne was discharged last week. We were full steam ahead. My husband, Frank, did some research and found newspaper articles and headlines from various Feb. 15ths over the last 100 years, archive documents and photos from Anne’s family, and photos of houses she lived in and her church.
“People also sent me lots of photos, and we printed out articles from the many interviews Anne has done through the years. We purchased a large memory scrapbook to put everything in.”
“Anne is a phenomenal woman. I joined the Easton Senior Center about 10 years ago as a volunteer and learned my volunteer coordinator was Anne, a 90-year-old wonder. She is on the Easton Senior Center Advisory Board, schedules our volunteers, and enjoys weaving classes and many other activities at the center. She is an avid bowler on Wednesdays and continues to drive. AMAZING.” — Maryellen Diana
“Anne Fiyalka is an amazing woman! She is always positive no matter how minor or major an incident she is facing. Although she has lived 100 years on this earth, she’s as current in her views as any young person. Anne is interesting and interested in what we are doing, a wonderful and endearing part of her personality. Her faith is unwavering and it’s been tested many times over the years. She is a true life inspiration to us and many. My husband, Bill, and I just came to the same conclusion. We want to be just like her when we grow up!” — Cheryl Constand
“Anne is the heart of our community. She not only offers so much of her time and talents volunteering for many near and dear local organizations, she brings joy to every occasion and person she meets. I have been personally touched by her strength and grace, and am awed by her zest for life. Anne is the best kind of friend – ready to share a cup of tea or to get on a bus or airplane for a fun adventure! She’s a marvel!” —Michelle Falcone
“I had heard amazing stories of Anne Fiyalka for many years before I met her in person. I first got to know Anne when we worked together at the polls on Election Day. We have worked side by side in a number of elections and referendums. Anne is an incredible teacher, extremely organized, and understanding of inexperienced newbies. A day at the polls lasts from 5:30 a.m. until well after 8 p.m. Anne put in a full day, not going home until recording the official results in her notebook.
“I often think of the stories she has shared, like flying with Amelia Earhart. To have listened to a lecture by the famed female flyer, at her school, telling the girls that they could be anything they wanted, in itself is amazing, especially for the 1930’s. Then, to go for an actual flight, had to be a dream come true.
“Anne is a woman of tremendous faith. For many years she has been active in supporting Notre Dame of Easton. Like many of us, she has had her ups and downs. She has a firm belief in God, who has carried her through the difficult times. Anne is truly an inspiration, grateful for every day and every circumstance. May we all follow her shining example.” — Chris Linley
“I knew Anne through church for many years, and about five years ago, I asked her to speak at an annual church luncheon. She had to skip bowling that day, but she agreed and asked what she could talk about. Anne arrived with photos and items and shared her amazing life story; the good and the bad. Anne is so wonderful, not just because she has lived 100 years, but because she lives her life with humble gratitude and grace, inspiring all she meets. She readily volunteers, helps those in need, and shares selflessly, educating peers and every subsequent generation. She is a role model and an inspiration for all.” — Jeanine Pagliaro
You can read our previous article, Anne Fiyalka Marks 100 Years of a ‘Blessed Life,’ here.