Friends organize parade for beloved retired teacher and coach battling cancer

Retired Seymour Community School Corp. teacher and coach Art Juergens will tell you cancer takes a lot out of a person.

It robs you of strength and energy so you can’t do all of the things you want to do, he said. It can take away your happiness and ability to laugh and smile. It can make your hair fall out, leaving you self-conscious of how you look.

And at times, it takes away your hope for the future.

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But then there are the good days when you almost forget the cancer is there. For Juergens, one of those days was Sunday, his 74th birthday.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and state-ordered stay-at-home restrictions, Juergens’ family was unable to organize a gathering of people this year to celebrate the occasion.

But that didn’t stop his many friends and loved ones from bringing a surprise party to him in a socially distancing acceptable way, of course.

As Juergens stood in the driveway in front of his home in Sunset Parkway in Seymour on Sunday afternoon, a parade of more than 100 vehicles drove by slowly, honking. The procession was even led by a Seymour police car and firetruck.

People rolled down their windows, held decorated signs and yelled “Happy Birthday, Art!” and “We love you Juergy!” Some even stopped to have a brief conversation with him and drop off containers of baked goods, birthday cards, balloons and presents.

Many of those in the convoy were teachers, administrators and staff from Seymour Community Schools. His fellow school board trustees and members of Knights of Columbus also showed up in force.

Knowing Juergens’ favorite baseball team is the Chicago Cubs, Meredith Henry, a guidance counselor at Seymour-Redding Elementary School, and her family sang the Cubs theme song as they drove by.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It’s pretty humbling to see that many people that support you.”

It has been nine months since Juergens was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in July 2019. He has had two surgeries, 20 radiation treatments and 32 chemotherapy treatments in that time.

“I’ve got four treatments left and two more surgeries to go if everything goes OK,” he said.

Even though he doesn’t always feel up to it, Juergens has never missed a regular monthly meeting of the Seymour school board. As president, he said it’s his duty and a promise he made to the community that he plans to continue to fulfill.

“In 12 years, I haven’t missed a meeting, and I don’t want to miss one now,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to figure out how we’re going to get the schools opened up again.”

Family friends Sharon Eggers and Sue Foster organized the drive-by birthday party knowing Juergens had been feeling down lately.

Eggers said she saw Foster on Friday, and that’s when she learned Juergens’ birthday was Sunday and that he had been having a rough time.

“We both thought a parade would be a great idea,” she said.

In just 24 hours, they had used social media to invite as many people as they could.

“We were so happy and surprised that it spread as much as it did,” Eggers said.

From the smile on his face and the light in his eyes as he watched the cars drive by, it was evident it was just what the doctor ordered.

“Sometimes, you have bad days, but something like this really cheers you up,” he said.

Keeping the parade a secret for as long as they could was Juergens’ wife, Judy, their daughter, Aimee Caudill, and granddaughter, Rachel Lovegrove. To get him outside, though, they had to let him in on the surprise a few minutes before the parade started.

“We feel so blessed for the outpouring of love shown to us today,” Judy said.

Caudill said her dad was most thrilled by getting to see the faces of those who love and care about him. He made sure to acknowledge everyone in every vehicle.

“Thank you to everyone who took part in this epic day,” Caudill said. “Are there enough thank yous to show our gratitude? No, not even close. Because of our small town love, you all made dad’s 74th birthday unforgettable. It put a smile on his face like I haven’t seen in months.”

“Why wouldn’t you smile?” Juergens said. “It was a wonderful day. Best birthday I’ve ever had.”