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Valentine's Day birthday brings family together

By Julie Baughman, jbaughman@tribune.com

9:54 AM EST, February 11, 2013

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Paper hearts hung from the ceiling, red, white and black balloons arched over the DJ booth and guests anxiously shushed each other.

No one wanted to spoil the surprise.

While Betty Collins won't actually turn 70 until Feb. 14, the family of the Arbutus resident thought the occasion deserved a special surprise birthday party on Feb. 9 at the Arbutus Town Hall.

"You never forget her birthday because it's on Valentine's Day," said Collins' daughter, Susan Appleton. "And it's perfect because it's all about love."

Appleton, who drove all the way from Virginia Beach to be with her mom for her birthday party, is the second oldest of Collins' six children. Her siblings came from Annapolis to Florida to celebrate with their mother. Collins' 22 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren were also in attendance.

Collins wiped tears from her eyes when she saw all her children together for the first time since her husband's funeral almost six years ago.

"It's a big deal for all of us to be here," Appleton said."It's the first time we've been together since my dad died."

A bouquet of roses celebrated the growing family. There were six white roses representing each of her children, 22 yellow roses for her grandchildren and four pink roses for the three great-grandchildren and another on the way.

"To put them all in one place, it's just simply wonderful," Collins said.

Collins' only brother, 68-year-old Walter Gover, and his wife, Mary Gover, traveled from Lewes, Del., for Saturday's party.

Walter Gover said it was a special occasion that his sister was soon to turn 70 and because her birthday falls on Valentine's Day.

"It means a lot," Gover said of the party. "Especially when you get older, that's what you've got, you've got memories. Those last forever."

"She's always enjoyed that it's one of those things you can say is a little bit different than anybody else," Gover continued about celebrating Collins' birthday and Valentine's Day on the same day.

Collins said she would always receive two presents, one for her birthday and one for Valentine's Day. and always liked being able to enjoy both at once.

"Well, I always felt it was special because it was on Valentine's Day," Collins said.

Asked how she felt upon entering the party, Collins said she felt shocked.

"I'm like shaking inside," she said. "It's just, you know, so exciting to see them all together."

Her children have been planning the party since July 2012.

Making the occasion extra special was the presence of friends and former colleagues at the party as well family members.

Collins used to work as the assistant director for the Southwest Senior Center on South Calhoun Street in Baltimore and now works for Action in Maturity, another senior center in the city on Roland Avenue.

Baltimore City resident Elizabeth Townsend, who also goes by Betty, is Collins' former boss at the Southwest Senior Center.

She wiped tears from her eyes as she recalled fond memories with her former colleague.

Townsend said people used to call her "Big Betty" and Collins "Little Betty" and that every year for her birthday, as close to Valentine's Day as possible, she would invite Collins to her house and cook her favorite meal.

"The tradition was, she would come to my house and invite a couple of friends and I would fix her spaghetti," Townsend recalled.

As Collins looked around the room after sitting down to eat her dinner, she could not stop exclaiming about how excited she was to see so many different people from so many different parts of her life in one place.

She talked of her colleagues from both the Southwest Senior Center and Action in Maturity, her family, the friends she plays cards with and fellow members from Ravens Roost 15.

"It's wonderful to have family and also to see all of my associates and friends together," Collins said.

"I am like stunned. I'm stunned. I really am."