John Frey’s family was hoping to get 101 birthday cards by June 7 to celebrate the World War II veteran’s 101st birthday.
In her wildest dreams, Frey’s daughter Janice Carlson said she envisioned receiving maybe 500 cards. But Frey’s request for cards spread quickly after The Associated Press picked up the story from the Daily Herald in May and it appeared in news outlets across the country.
At his birthday celebration Saturday at the Mervyn Sharp Bennion Central Utah Veteran’s Home in Payson, Frey ended up with well over 5,000 cards — possibly as many as 6,000.
The cards, neatly organized in stacks, covered the entire surface area of a pool table, and those were just the unopened ones. Other tables were covered with cards he’s already opened, and many already hang on the wall of his room at the home.
Frey said he had not expected to ever get so many cards.
The front desk receptionist at the home, Jeanne Waters, said she asked the postal service for an extra tub just to sort Frey’s cards every day.
“These have been overfilled with letters and packages and everything for him,” Waters said. “It’s been fun, it really has.”
Waters said it was fun to flip through the cards as she was sorting them each day to see where they were from. Several times, she saw people who would send multiple cards.
“A lot of people are so patriotic, and they’re just excited to be able to send their appreciation and love for this veteran,” Waters said. “It’s been really such a wonderful thing.”
Return addresses included cards from all 50 states and at least 12 countries. They came from everyone imaginable, including entire classrooms of school children, fellow military veterans and Utah’s elected officials.
Carlson picked out a few cards for Frey to open Saturday as family, friends and other residents of the home came to eat cake and celebrate with him the day after his June 7 birthday. Those cards included notes from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, Utah congressmen John Curtis and Ben McAdams.
Carlson guided Frey as he used a letter opener to open one envelope including a sea shell and a note. “Holy mackerel!” he exclaimed, as he opened another card that played music.
When asked what he would do with all the cards, Frey said he had no idea.
Carlson said they’ll load up his room with as many as they can. That’s after they get them all opened, which won’t be for a few days.
“You get opened what you can today, we’ll work on them throughout the week,” one staff member said as she left the party.
Frey, who spent time as a mechanic/machinist during his time in the U.S. Army in 1945, said all the excitement has been a bit tiring for him.
“I just want to get in my car and take off for awhile,” said Frey, who lived in his own home until he was 100 and still loves his car and going for drives.