'Drive-by' 102nd birthday for Centennial woman (PHOTOS)

Community turns out to celebrate a colorful life


She was born and raised in Detroit and worked for the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Chile.

She was married twice and has lived in the same home for four decades.

She spent retirement years taking part in dance groups, and she's got a “wicked” sense of humor, say those close to her.

And now, she's 102 years old.

A small crowd gathered outside the home of Alma Ryan on June 27 for a “drive-by birthday” celebration, a phenomenon that has become popular during the restrictions on gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

About 10 cars drove by Ryan's west Centennial house with balloons and homemade signs — one attendee held a bubble-blower out of the car window, and a South Metro Fire Rescue truck cruised by and honked during the celebration.

John Andrews, a 76-year-old who lives a few blocks from Ryan, said his wife attended an exercise dance class about two decades ago with Ryan.

“She told me about an elderly woman who put them all to shame,” Andrews said.

Ryan led an adventurous life: One of eight children in her family, she left the country to work as an embassy secretary under the U.S. State Department as a young adult. Her first husband died in a Korean military conflict around 1950, and she later entered a second marriage that was brief and ended in divorce, according to Bret Gerhold, one of her caregivers who has worked with her for six years.

She eventually worked for the military in California, striking out on her own for Colorado around 1980. She came here for the oil-and-gas industry, and she worked as secretary for company that eventually became part of British Petroleum, according to Gerhold.

She's lived in the same house in what is now Centennial since that time, Gerhold said. After retiring in the mid-1980s, she joined different dance groups and did aerobics — that's how she met one of the people who showed up for the drive-by celebration on her 102nd birthday, Gerhold, 54, said.

“We keep each other going,” Gerhold said of Ryan, with a laugh. Asked what he's learned from her, he said: “Just be positive, go with the flow, take things in stride.”

Ryan, who watched the birthday celebration grinning from her front window, said the event “makes me breathless.”

Reminiscing about her life, she said: “I was going to see as much of the world as I could, and I did. Not too long ago, I spent time in China … Nobody did anything like what I did from my family. They all did the normal things and normal places. They didn't think of doing really exciting things.”

Lynne Bryan, of Lakewood, another of Ryan's caregivers, called her “an absolute sweetheart. She's got a wicked sense of humor. She loves chocolate. She tells the best stories.”

Tove Forgo, another of Ryan's caregivers, handed flyers to houses in the neighborhood to put the celebration together.

“Ms. Alma has lived a very independent and adventuresome life,” said Forgo, a 59-year-old Denver resident. “(She) told me before: 'People should seize the opportunities presented to them.' ”


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