Overhead view of the surrounding countryside

Applewood Employee Creates Unforgettable Birthday Surprise for Longtime Resident

Aug 4, 2022

big group of motorcyles
man in wheelerchair with biker girl kneeling next to him

Walter Frederick and Michelle Russell, LSW, Director of Social Services at Applewood

One of the most valuable assets Applewood offers senior living residents is the outstanding quality of its staff. Our employees perform their duties with skill, care, kindness and professionalism. As a not-for-profit, single-site, continuing care retirement community (CCRC), we have curated a tight-knit community of staff and residents where we refer to each other by name, just like family. By building relationships, our employees can meet the more specific needs of every resident at all levels of care.

Michelle Russell, Director of Social Services, recently exemplified this commitment as she went ‘above and beyond’ for Walter Frederick, an Applewood resident for 17 years; moving into Applewood independent living in 2005 and later transitioning to Applewood’s skilled nursing community.

Michelle made a special effort to spend extra time with Walter. “His family is the Applewood family,” she notes. Forging a friendship, she learned, like her grandfather, Walter was an Army veteran who also served in the National Guard during the 1960s. As his 83rd birthday approached, Michelle wanted to surprise him with a birthday celebration he would never forget.

Finding common ground on two wheels

“Walter has always loved motorcycles and I started riding a few years ago,” the Director of Social Services explains. “He would share great stories, ask about my latest rides and my bike, a Harley Softtail Slim.”

This gave Michelle an idea to make Walter’s birthday unforgettable, but she needed the help of a few friends.

She contacted the Motorcycle Committee at the Asbury Park/Wall Elks Lodge for volunteer riders to join her in a surprise birthday Biker Brigade around Applewood on Walter’s birthday. Word about “Walt’s Ride” was passed on to other Elks lodges and motorcycle community members who also volunteered.

Michelle had more than 100 motorcycle volunteers committed to riding for the surprise event. In recognition of Walter’s six years of military service, each biker attached an American flag to the back of their motorcycles.

An unforgettable celebration for an Applewood veteran

people riding motorcycles

people clapping for man in wheelchair

On a picture-perfect Saturday, decorations created by the Skilled Nursing Activity Department were hung at the community entrance. At 11 am, more than 100 motorcyclists entered the back of the community and rode in ‘quiet mode’ to the entrance of Applewood, where Walter waited for Michelle’s ‘birthday surprise.’

News 12 NJ, Michelle, leaders from Elks clubs around New Jersey, motorcycle clubs and more than 100 riders, with American flags flying, rode up to an astounded Walter.

media talking to man in wheelchair

The group greeted Walter, wished him ‘happy birthday,’ shook his hand and thanked him for his military service. He received an American flag, Elks Clubs tee shirts and a rousing and emotional happy birthday song sung by the motorcyclists, Applewood staff, Applewood residents—even the news crew from News 12.

Watch: Walter Frederick and Michelle Russell’s interview on News 12: https://newjersey.news12.com/veteran-gets-surprise-birthday-celebration-from-asbury-park-wall-motorcycle-committee

Though stunned by the birthday surprise ‘of his lifetime,’ Walter was able to share some thoughtful advice on living your best life–

“Age is just a number,” he said. “It’s what you do with the time you’re given that truly matters.”

Active Senior Living at Applewood

At Applewood, we’ll always greet you by your name because our single-site continuing care retirement community is a family. We would love to show you everything our Engaged Living™ community offers. Call us at 732-303-7416 to learn more and schedule your private tour of our country-club-caliber amenities, spacious cottage-style homes and well-appointed apartments.