KOKOMO, IN (WTHR) — The goal was the best birthday ever: help a Kokomo veteran celebrate his 100th year.
The result was nothing short of spectacular. A simple request from a friend led to thousands of gifts from strangers.
In friendship, the priority is the other person. Salena Catron found that in the man next door.
“Someone who appreciates you. Somebody who is happy when you do something good. That is my best friend,” Salena explained.
It’s an unlikely friendship, perhaps, nearer in distance than decade.
“I’m 47. He’s 100. That is crazy,” Salena said. “Who has…how many people have a 100-year-old friend? Best friend?”
“As soon as she moved next door about ten years ago, we hit it off from day one,” said Salena’s neighbor, James Ralph Kuntz.
“Mr. Kuntz,” as Salena calls him – World War II veteran, lunch partner, teller of great stories – just hit the century mark.
“How does it feel? About like 99,” Kuntz joked.
To celebrate, Salena had an idea last month. She made Mr. Kuntz his own Facebook page, with a simple request for his followers.
“Honestly, I just wanted 100 cards for his 100th birthday,” Salena said.
But after that first post in May, something special started to happen.
“I just started getting piles of mail stuffed – I mean stuffed – in my mailbox,” Salena said. “Cards and large envelopes. Then it became boxes.”
The messages just kept coming, from all over the world.
“I was getting between 200 and 400 a day,” Salena explained. “They’re from North Carolina, California. This one’s from Switzerland. I was just like, ‘Holy cow! Who does this? Who does this?’ Nice people. People who really, really care about others. That’s who does that.”
On the big day, June 15, Salena rented a classic mail car to make the surprise delivery to Mr. Kuntz, a former mailman.
Her best friend was stunned.
Family members took video of his reaction – hand to head, jaw dropped.
“It just went! It was great! I think that he was just amazed really,” Salena said.
“Oh man, you wouldn’t believe it,” Kuntz added.
“When I do it, I go big don’t I?” Salena asked him.
“Yep, you sure do,” Mr. Kuntz replied.
In one month, people mailed in more than 7,000 birthday wishes. Cards and gifts by the box and bagful are now piled in Mr. Kuntz’s garage, waiting to be opened.