My Grandfather turns 80: Surprise Party and Surprise Gift!

I’ve always been close to my grandparents. When I was little I remember being at their house, with my aunts and uncles, and with all my cousins,running around in the sprinklers in the front yard or eating popsicles on the front porch. As we all grew up, we spent most Christmases and Thanksgivings there, talking and laughing while sharing food and memories. Time sure has flown by. My cousins and I are all grown up now, some still school aged and busy with sports and activities, and some living our own lives, starting careers and families and going our separate ways. But we still get together when we can, at grandma and grandpa’s house, to spend time together and reminisce.

This year our whole family had a very special reason to gather together. My grandpa turned 80 years old on June 22, 2012.

I knew I needed to do something big for this birthday as it represents such a milestone in his life. Inspired by a project I found on Pinterest, I decided to reach out to as many of his friends and family members as I could, asking them to send a single memory of their time with my grandpa, Bob (a special occasion, a time they worked together, a funny story, etc.). My goal was to get at least 80 of them returned.

The project started with my grandmother mailing me a long list of names and addresses, hand written on notebook paper. I then took each address and typed it onto labels to be affixed to envelopes. I then typed up and printed off 100 copies of the letter to be mailed out. Below is the letter I sent:

After folding up all the letters, I put them all into the envelopes, including an extra envelope inside with my address on it, so everyone could easily mail back their memory if they wanted to, and stamped them all. It took a long time!

After mailing them all out, the real fun began. Over the next few weeks, letters, cards and emails started pouring in! It was fun to check my email and regular mailbox each day to see who was sending in memories. The tough part was printing off every email. I wanted them all to look consistent, so I pasted them into Microsoft Word documents and edited the fonts and sizes. There were over 50 that came in via email, so it took quite a bit of time!

After collecting them all, and printing off the emails, it was time to place each of them in their own envelope, so they would all “match”, then put them in the gift box for my grandpa. I was working right up until around midnight the night before the surprise, and even enlisted my husband to help me assemble everything.

The result was wonderful! My grandpa was very surprised. We invited some close friends and family to his house. As everyone started walking in, he was shocked! He thought everyone was just gathering to meet little Abby but soon he realized the surprise was for him!

When it was time for me to present him with his gift, I asked everyone to gather in the front room of my grandparent’s house. I then presented him with the box and asked him to pull out envelope #1, which was my letter to him. I then read it out loud, to everyone in the room. It read as follows:

From Kathleen Back

June 23, 2012


I wanted my letter to be the first you read so I can explain this project. A few months ago, I sent out notes to 80+ of your friends and family members asking them to take a moment and send back a single memory from their interactions with you over the years. The idea was to gather at least one memory to represent each year of your life (so 80 memories in all). While I didn’t make the “80” mark exactly, we came very close.

So, this box is a celebration. A celebration of 80 years filled with a wonderful career, beautiful family and amazing accomplishments. It is a box of memories for you to cherish from people you cherish.

So, to start off your box, here is my “memory” I contributed. I could not think of just one so here are some of the highlights! J

My favorite memories are all the times Mandy and I spent with you and grandma at your house. I remember sitting on your lap in the evenings while you would talk to us about our days and tell us stories. I remember the smell of your cigar smoke as we chatted in your big chair.

I also remember how you would take us out on your front porch during thunderstorms. Even though I would be scared you would tell us not to worry and to watch the storms and see God’s gift of nature.

I also remember all the vacations we took together to Shawnee, Myrtle Beach, Florida and even all our car rides to Columbus for the Ohio State Football games and to visit the Hull family.

I remember all the time you spent taking me to and from OU on weekends while I was in college. I also remember sharing our Sundays at Church together.

You have always told me how proud you are of me as your oldest grand-daughter and I will never forget that. You have encouraged my writing from the time I was a little girl, sharing your interest in journalism with me. I have been so proud to follow in your footsteps by working for NCR and will never forget the time you spent there and legacy you left behind.

I will never forget going around with you and grandma, during your volunteering as Santa and Mrs. Claus, as one of your “elves”. I felt so blessed to be able to witness the joy you brought to so many children’s faces, especially those that might have not had a Christmas at all if it weren’t for you both.

I think above all, I will always remember our special saying. Once, when I was little you said to me, as you always did “I love you more than you love me.” And I responded “God loves us more!” and you said “That’s right!”. So ever since that day, I enjoy that we always sign off or say goodbye stating “Love you more!”

I could go on and on, but the point is that I was honored to put this gift together for you and absolutely humbled by the adoration and stories that came pouring in via cards, letters, pictures and emails, after I sent out the notes.

You have touched many lives in the past 80 years and this gift is a way for you to look back on the memories they have of you, anytime you would like, and be proud of all you have accomplished and everyone you have impacted.


Love you more,



My grandpa was overjoyed and I think I even saw a couple tears! :)

After I read my letter, he said a few words to everyone and thanked me for the gift. Him and my grandmother spent time that evening reading through all the letters. In total, counting other cards that were mailed directly to his house, he received over 100 memories from family and friends! It was a wonderful way to commemorate his 80th birthday!!

Thank you to everyone that contributed to this project! 

Happy 80th Birthday grandpa!



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