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She couldn’t have visitors for her 90th birthday — so church members serenaded her from the street

Dorothy French stood on a balcony at Symphony Lincoln Park, where St. Josaphat Church members gathered below Thursday to wish her a “happy birthday.”

No visitors were allowed inside a Lincoln Park nursing home Thursday to wish Dorothy French a happy 90th birthday — so her fellow church members serenaded her from the street outside instead.

When French emerged on a balcony outside Symphony of Lincoln Park donning a surgical mask, a woman began playing the tune on an acoustic guitar as the rest of the parishioners from nearby St. Josaphat Church belted out the lyrics while holding colorful signs and trying their best to respect the six-foot social distancing guidelines put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Thank you so much,” French called down. “You’re my dolls.”

Dorothy waves in excitement as parishioners of St. Josaphat Catholic Church sing “Happy Birthday” to her, Thursday, April 9, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Like most facets of life, the new coronavirus has also stopped visitation to nursing homes like Symphony, 1366 W. Fullerton. Older people are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus and clusters of infection have cropped up at long-term care facilities for the elderly.

Originally from Detroit, French moved to Symphony about eight years ago to be closer to family members in the Chicago area, according to her daughter, Gertrude Lyons.

Prior to moving to Chicago, French relied on oxygen to treat COPD, a chronic lung disease that puts her at a higher risk of serious infection from the coronavirus. Though her condition has improved greatly, she is now quarantined at the retirement home due to the condition.

Kim Nugent said she and other members of the church community organized the makeshift birthday bash to “show [French] the love on her 90th birthday so she’s not in her room all day by herself.”

“This wasn’t a surprise but she told me she was going to put on the same outfit she wore for her 80th birthday,” said Nugent.

Parishioners of St. Josaphat Catholic Church sing “Happy Birthday” to Dorothy a 90-year-old who resides at Symphony of Lincoln Park, Thursday, April 9, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

French was in high spirits and good humor in the few minutes she stood outside, throwing her hands above her head triumphantly and basking in the moment. After noticing a Chicago police SUV parked near her fellow churchgoers, she asked jokingly, “Do they think it’s a riot?”

Before going back inside, French had a nurse relay one last message to the gathering throng below: “It’s too early in the morning.”

Given the circumstances, her daughter said it’s “wonderful” that her church group organized a “celebrity celebration” for her on Thursday. Earlier in her life, French ran a children’s clothing store in St. Clair, Michigan, and did interior design work. Now, she likes to make jewelry and is a member of The Village Chicago neighborhood group and a women’s group at St. Josaphat.

“She’s someone who shares her opinions freely but also loves to help people and be a part of things,” Lyons said. “She keeps really engaging with life and making friends.”

While family members hope to throw a real party in July — it that’s allowed by then — the gesture Thursday was heart-warming, Lyons said.

“It’s one of the silver linings of this coronavirus,” said Lyons.

Parishioners of St. Josaphat Catholic Church sing “Happy Birthday” to Dorothy a 90-year-old who resides at Symphony of Lincoln Park, Thursday, April 9, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Parishioners of St. Josaphat Catholic Church sing “Happy Birthday” to Dorothy a 90-year-old who resides at Symphony of Lincoln Park, Thursday, April 9, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times