Joanne Peterson Ridner had no idea that a simple picture on her Facebook page of a friend’s decorated tree with a plea for cards would result in Christmas magic.
Paul, a gentleman born and raised in Irvington, will celebrate his 90th birthday in January. He came to know the lake area when his parents had a summer house in Hopatcong, which he inherited in the 1970s. After living there fulltime, Paul eventually sold the house and moved throughout Jefferson. He shares his current small, well-kept home with two cats, Brother and Sister. To avoid potential ill-will or scamming, his full name and location are not disclosed.
A patch covers his right eye because of vision problems that cause blurriness. But nothing can cover up Paul’s quick wit and great sense of humor. His advanced age, however, does require some assistance with daily life activities, which Ridner has been providing for 10 years.
Paul’s Angels Assist Him
Ridner visits every morning to chat, help Paul with mail and other needs, and share a cup of tea. Friends also come by frequently to assist with chauffeuring to medical appointments, shopping, and providing daily insulin shots to Brother, who recently developed diabetes. Paul’s volunteer angels include Ridner, Herbie Lindermeyer, Valerie Johnson Korn, Dave Korn, Patty Daniels, Mark Berner, Nancy Barber, and Darlene Cornelius.
With the holidays approaching, Ridner posted a picture of Paul’s small Christmas tree on her Facebook wall. She asked people to send cards to fill the gap between visits. With the help of a social media-savvy friend, the suggestion exploded. A local nonprofit loaned its post office box to keep Paul’s location private. Ridner’s request was cross-posted to several Facebook groups including Jefferson Moms and Dads, Jefferson Parent Community, Lake Shawnee Club, Community Association of Prospect Point, and Jersey Girls, a site for current and former Jersey residents.
Although the request was made only one week before Christmas, the response was swift and overwhelming. On the first check of the post office box, 21 cards were retrieved. On day two, postal employees left a note in the box: The mail was too voluminous to fit. Ridner had to use a container to carry out the cards and packages. Day three brought 33 more cards, including 13 from a local grade school class.
The first batch was delivered on Christmas Eve. Paul, in awe of the volume, exclaimed, “What a surprise!” Eagerly opening the cards with Ridner, he was careful to read every word. Delight was evident in his infectious smile as he shouted, “They have me dumbstruck!” Ridner left the remaining cards for Paul to open at his leisure. Outside, she burst into tears of joy over the town’s response as well as her friend’s reaction.
The next day, Ridner and some of Paul’s other regular angels paid him a Christmas visit to chat and bring food. By December 26, when The Jefferson Chronicle stopped by, all the cards had been opened. “I read every one!” he proclaimed.
Cards Came from Jefferson and Beyond
Paul received multiple cards from Jefferson Township High School students. “I think every one of the graduating class signed them,” he told The Chronicle. He was gifted a Falcon shirt with a card that read, “This shirt is a special gift for you, because you are part our Falcon family.” He received a stuffed Santa beanie from the United Methodist Church of Lake Hopatcong. Seven people sent scratch-off lottery tickets. (Paul won $12.)
The majority of cards came from Jefferson residents in Oak Ridge, Lake Hopatcong, and Lake Shawnee – including one from mayor-elect Eric Wilsusen’s family. Paul also received cards from around the state (Toms River, Point Pleasant, and Kinnelon) and as far away as Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Delaware, South Carolina, and Alaska. At the time of publication, Paul had received 153 cards and two packages, with more expected to arrive.
Reflecting on the enthusiastic outpouring of love and caring through the Facebook post, Alyson Music told The Chronicle, “It got me in the Christmas spirit!” People sent pictures of their pets and their families; they wrote messages of Christmas cheer. Many inquired about other ways they could contribute.
The respondents wanted to provide a little Christmas spirit to Paul. In return, Paul instilled the spirit in them. All of this was possible for the price of a postage stamp and a Christmas card. “Thank you all so much,” said Paul. “And happy New Year!”