Yesterday was a milestone day for Plant City resident Gladys Lefler: she celebrated her 100th birthday. But the big party already happened a few days ago.
Lefler’s family celebrated the big occasion Sunday by putting together a drive-thru parade. Faye Cook, her daughter, wanted her to celebrate with many of her friends and family in a way that would keep her safe after the pandemic changed plans that were made as long ago as last year.
“It’s all come together pretty well,” Cook said. “I was going to rent the 1914 building. I had a reservation a year ago and then the pandemic hit. I was going to do a big pavilion, but then I just couldn’t be comfortable with thinking people would stay far enough apart. We’ve seen this (parade) and other people suggested it.”
Drive-thru parades were so common in Plant City in 2020 that Lefler’s family had plenty of examples to learn from when planning this one. Everything from birthdays and high school graduations to sports team send-offs and employee retirements was celebrated that way. Though the drive-thru parade is a less common sight in 2021, this one showed that this kind of party still has an impact.
Lefler, who wore a customized “100” hat, sat near the edge of her driveway and greeted more than 30 cars, as well as a few kids riding their bikes around the neighborhood, as they honked their horns and wished her well with windows rolled down. Many cars were decked out with balloons, party hats and signs. As they made their second pass by Lefler’s home to leave the neighborhood, anyone who wanted a custom, individually boxed cupcake from Wooden Bowl Cakery was given one.
Lefler was born in Mayo and grew up in Lakeland, where she attended Kathleen High School. She married her husband Jim after graduating from high school and the two moved to Plant City soon afterward. She’s now spent nearly 80 of her 100 years here.
“It’s a good place to be,” Lefler said. “Most of my years have been good to me. There hasn’t been a lot of trouble.”
Throwing a big party was the least the family felt it could do for Lefler, who taught them all the value of being kind to everybody they meet.
“She says people have been good to her, and I said ‘Well that’s because you’ve been good to so many people,’” Cook said.
Though she knew ahead of time that her family was planning the parade for her, Lefler was pleasantly surprised at the scale of the party — everything from the big turnout to the big sign in her front yard was more than she expected.
“I feel fine,” Lefler said. “I think my children went through a lot of trouble to put this on and I appreciate it. I know most of the people that came by, but I didn’t expect this many people. I didn’t know what to expect. I appreciated them all coming. My children, they love me and they take care of me. They really do.”