Sam Spera’s eyes lit up as he walked outside the front door of Juniper Village at Williamstown shortly after 11 a.m. last Thursday.
Awaiting him was a long line of police cars, members of the Juniper Village staff and his family. Last Thursday, June 25, was Spera’s 97th birthday and even though his family and friends couldn’t go inside to visit him at Juniper Village because of COVID-19 restrictions, they wanted to make sure he got the birthday bash he deserved.
Spera, a long-time Williamstown community member and former chief of detectives with the Monroe Township Police Department, was the recipient of more than 150 birthday cards, a police drive-by parade and dozens of smiles from family and friends during a special birthday celebration. For Spera, it was the perfect gift.
“I think it was a nice tribute,” said Spera, who moved into Juniper Village last year.
Spera’s granddaughter, Cindy Zimmerman, organized last week’s event as a way for the community to celebrate her grandfather’s birthday. Zimmerman noted her family hadn’t seen Spera in more than three months because of COVID-19. Juniper Village has prohibited outside visitors from entering the facility.
“It’s been difficult not being able to go in and see him due to COVID,” Zimmerman said. “My family and I, my brother, my mother, my husband and myself, appreciate the care (of Juniper Village). They go out of their way to send me pictures. They really go out of their way to make him happy.”
There were two parts to Spera’s birthday celebration. The first was the large pile of birthday cards Spera received in the mail during the days leading up to his birthday. On June 14, Zimmerman posted on the Williamstown/Monroe Township Talk Facebook group about her grandfather’s upcoming birthday and asked the community to send him a card. The post got more than 300 likes and more than 150 residents mailed cards to Spera. Zimmerman and Juniper Village staff hung some of the cards on the building’s front porch last Thursday, with more of them placed in a gift basket.
“I was surprised,” Zimmerman said about the amount of cards her grandfather received. “But the community page is quite large and a lot of people remember him.”
Spera remained a big part of the police community well into his retirement from serving as a police officer for 26 years in Monroe Township. He still has many friends who are current and retired officers in the township and maintains a presence with the township’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 125. Prior to COVID-19, Spera would be picked up from Juniper Village so he could attend the lodge’s monthly meetings.
“They’re very nice,” Spera said of the FOP meetings. “I get to see all of my friends there.”
“I can’t say enough about our police department,” Zimmerman added. “Before COVID, they picked him up once a month for the FOP monthly meetings. They go out of their way to still include him.”
It was only natural for the police department to be a part of Spera’s birthday celebration. Zimmerman reached out to Monroe police Chief James DeHart about honoring Spera while maintaining social distance. A drive-by parade was conceived, with dozens of police vehicles riding past Juniper Village as Spera looked on from the front porch. Many of the officers waved and a few people held signs wishing Spera a happy birthday.
“I’m sure it meant a great deal to him,” Zimmerman said. “He was super surprised. He had no idea.”
Spera got to open several gifts after the parade, one of which was a blanket featuring police badges on it. Law enforcement has always been a big part of Spera’s life. One of the signs at his birthday celebration featured an old photo of him from when he worked in the police department. Prior to his interview with The Sun, Spera noted he had previously been in another local newspaper, Williamstown’s Plain Dealer, many times while working as a police officer.
“They’re beautiful,” Spera said about his gifts. “It’s quite an honor.”
Spera was almost at a loss for words as he took in all of the excitement around him. When asked to detail the experience as everything wound down, Spera summed it up in just a few words.
“It was a wonderful tribute.”