Lawrence M. Walsh
JOLIET – What do you wish for when you’re turning 100? Diane Brozman’s wish was to get 100 birthday cards.
What she got was a day full of surprises and about 30 times more cards than she’d hoped for.
Brozman, who has been a resident of Sunny Hill Nursing Home of Will County since 2007, said she was “overwhelmed” by the attention.
It started with a Facebook post on the county-owned facility’s page. The post explained Brozman’s birthday wish and asked people to send cards to “Diane B’s birthday surprise.”
Some 2,600 shares later, the cards flowed in from 37 states. School groups, Girl Scouts, elected officials and everyday people she has never met participated. There even was a card from Canada and another from New Zealand.
Brozman’s Valentine’s Day birthday celebration started the day before when students from Joliet Central decorated the hallway to her room with 100 heart-shaped birthday wishes.
With family in tow, Brozman had a front-row seat at the facility’s annual Valentine’s Day party. Musician Frank Rossi was keeping things lively when Julie Lewis’ 3rd-grade class from St. Mary Nativity arrived. The 16 children presented her with a vase of paper flowers, a teddy bear, a heart-shaped box of candy and handmade cards from the entire school.
“That was my parish,” she exclaimed. “That was my parish.” She attended grade school there.
She blew a kiss to the children and teacher after they finished singing Happy Birthday to her. But that was far from her final surprise.
At the end of the dance, Sunny Hill Nursing Home Administrator Becky Haldorson, told the group about the Facebook post and they wheeled in a cart in with boxes of cards. There were 2,634 cards there, she said, and more were expected in the mail that just didn’t make it on time.
“Oh my gosh,” Brozman said in amazement.
At that time, three Joliet police officers walked in. Officer Jamere Price informed Brozman she had committed a crime. “You’ve stolen everyone’s hearts,” he said.
With help from the city’s 911 dispatchers, the officers put together a basket of goodies, a bouquet of flowers, and three more cards.
“I never thought I’d be this famous,” Brozman said, a big smile on her face as she posed with the “handsome” police officers, who towered her.
Brozman was born and raised in Joliet. Her Yugoslavian immigrant parents, Anthony and Agatha Crnbkovic had eight children. Her father was a founder of St. Mary Nativity Church.
She had six athletic brothers and one sister. (“And she was better looking than me, too!”) As the kid sister, she wanted to keep up with her brothers, shooting baskets in the backyard with them and their friends.
She went everywhere with her dad, she said.
Brozman took typing and shorthand at Joliet Central. After graduation, she got a secretarial job on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.
She taught herself to sew. “I used to sew all my own clothes.”
It was something she continued to do for her daughters.
She and her husband, Michael, had two daughters, Paula and Diane. Paula pre-deceased her, as did all of her siblings. Michael died within days of their 25th wedding anniversary.
She has six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Secret to long life
“I feel young today. I don’t feel 100,” she said, adding, “Every day I thank the Lord I’m here.”
Why does she think she’s lived so long? “Almighty God don’t want me yet. I guess I’m not good enough.”
Later, she said that maybe she lived to be 100 because she’d always been on the go, first trying to keep up with her brothers and still now at Sunny Hill. “Whenever they need volunteers I always put my hand up.”
As the day progressed, the piles of cards and gifts continued to grow. A long table had been put in her room to hold all of the cards and goodies. Several vases of flowers covered the dresser and nightstand.
But there was still one more surprise to come on this special day.
Mid-afternoon a firetruck and ambulance pulled up to the side of the building. There was no emergency. The men from Station 3 just wanted to make a special visit to the Sunny Hill sweetheart.
They, too, came bearing cards. There were nine, one from each of the city’s stations bearing the signatures of the firefighters stationed there. They also brought a heart-shaped box of candy.
After posing for pictures with her, they stood and talked with her.
By day’s end, the card tally reached 3,045.
Brozman planned on enjoying them all.
“There are a lot of good people in the world.”v