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Kansas Man Who Lives Alone Receives 100+ Birthday Cards From Around The World

Willie Ricken has lived in the same house in Garden Plain, Kansas, outside of Wichita, for more than 60 years. And every year on his birthday, his family likes to come together and make a big fuss about it.

“We’re all just very aware that our time with him is dwindling," says his granddaughter Hallie Sigwing, a wedding photographer in Kansas City. "So, especially since his 90th birthday, we’ve definitely gone out of our way to make sure that there was a big celebration.”

Until this year, that is.

Social distancing meant they couldn’t be together for a big party like usual, which was hard for Ricken’s family to come to grips with ⁠— especially since he lives alone.

So Sigwing's uncle in St. Louis suggested they put a out call on Facebook to people who knew Ricken or their family. Would people like to send him a birthday card? Because of Ricken's great sense of humor, the invitation encouraged people to send particularly funny ones.

“I still try and send cards when I can," says Sigwing. "I think there’s something really special about having a physical birthday card."

The whole family was surprised by the response.

As of Monday, Ricken had received 100 cards in the mail. Even more have arrived since then.

The fire department also came by to sing happy birthday to him (from a safe distance). This was the same Sedgwick County station where Ricken was a fireman himself from the late 1950s to the early 1980s.

Fireman Bobby Southern reached out to the family himself, saying the department wanted to "honor one of their own."

View this post on Instagram The Sedgwick County fire department came to Garden Plain to sing my grandpa, a retired Sedgwick County fireman, happy birthday upon turning 94 yesterday. And it makes me cry every time I watch it. “How about that?” he said at the end. ❤️ A post shared by Hallie Sigwing (@halliesigwing) on Apr 8, 2020 at 7:54pm PDT

Not everyone was excited to see the fire truck.

“Everybody knows him,” says Sigwing. “So when the fire truck showed up in front of his house with the lights and sirens and everything going off, a couple of the neighbors ran over to his house because they thought something had happened to him. But obviously it was just the birthday crew. It was pretty funny.”

As to how Ricken is responding to all of this attention, Sigwing says he finds “the ruckus” pretty hilarious.

“He’s like, who are these people?” says Sigwing. “Because he’s gotten a lot of cards from people he doesn’t even know.”

It’s also been a comfort to his family stuck at home.

“Ideally we would have loved to have seen him,” says Sigwing. “But I think that knowing that he’s so loved, not only by our family, but by so many of his friends and family around the country, and that people went out of their way to do this really made the entire situation a lot sweeter.”

Hallie Sigwing spoke with KCUR at the end of a recent episode of Up To Date Special Coverage: Coronavirus In KC. You can listen to their entire conversation here.

Courtesy of Hallie Sigwing /
Courtesy of Hallie Sigwing /

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3