June Atkin had an unusual but memorable birthday celebration this year. With local Fourth of July events canceled, friends, family and others helped Atkin, a longtime North Harford High School teacher, celebrate her 90th birthday on July 4 with a birthday parade at her Whiteford home.
As a former teacher with more than 30 years at North Harford, Atkin knew she had touched many lives in her time. Saturday afternoon showed her just how many people she had reached. Atkin was overwhelmed as nearly 150 vehicles filled with friends, family, former students and fellow teachers rolled down Ridge Road, pausing for a moment to wish her a happy birthday and let her know that she was and still is an important part of their lives.
“I think she’s gonna be very excited,” Jeremy Greene said of his great aunt as he sat on his tractor at the head of the line waiting for the parade to begin. “When I was younger we used to have big Fourth of July parties at her house because she was born on the Fourth. Since we’ve gotten older, everyone doing different things we just hadn’t had them as much.
“So we figured let’s have a small get together outside with the coronavirus. She’s 90, so the small get-together turned into this,” Greene said as he turned with a smile to look at the long line of vehicles lined up along Ridge Road.
Atkin sat beneath the shade tent at the end of her driveway with friends and family quickly gathering the many balloons, cards and gifts from those in the parade of vehicles.
“I can’t believe this, I truly am overwhelmed, I can’t even give you the words for it,” she said. “I don’t know who planned it or how it was planned and put together but it certainly was well done and without my knowledge!”
Jayme Webster, Atkin’s daughter said, “I know that she was loved, and this” she said waving her hand toward the long line of cars waiting to offer birthday wishes, “this shows it’s the absolute truth. We’ve gotten over 220 cards and letters for her birthday, all of them are so well-written and she said ‘That’s what I wanted my kids to be able to do, to write and talk correctly.' It’s amazing, some of the letters, they recited remembering her making them remember these things, it’s just amazing.”
“You changed my life,” said one driver who stopped as he started rattling off the titles of stories he remembered from school. “‘To Kill a Mockingbird,' ‘Red Badge of Courage,' ‘The Hobbit,' the list goes on. I remember reading all those thanks to you. Thanks and I love you.”
“That was wonderful, thank you, love you too,” Atkin replied as she waved.
One driver who was not part of the parade, but going the opposite direction on the road paused in front of the shade tent Atkin was sitting under and yelled to her “Ma’am, I don’t know you from Adam but happy birthday and I hope you have 90 more,” as he and his passenger waved and smiled before driving slowly away.
When asked about her more than 30 years teaching, Atkin flashed a smile and shrugged her shoulders.
“I just did what came naturally. I can’t imagine that I had that much of an effect but I just loved the kids,” she said. “I wouldn’t let them off the hook for anything, it didn’t matter they had to do it, they had to get that writing in, the reading in and most of all they had to memorize and oh, they sure didn’t like it but all these cards and comments, they’re telling me I did something right.”