A man begins to shake James Winslow's hand at Winslow's birthday celebration in Mapleton on Saturday, April 25. Credit: Staff Photo/David Marino Jr. | BDN

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MAPLETON, Maine — When Jessica Winslow began organizing a birthday celebration for her brother-in-law James, she expected it would mostly draw in family members and a few well-wishers from the community.

But she never could have foreseen the massive impromptu parade that followed, featuring more than a hundred cars, numerous gifts and the support of several local public safety agencies. It was yet another act of local kindness from The County as it faces down the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Hundreds from Presque Isle and surrounding communities descended upon Griffin Ridge Road in Mapleton on Saturday, April 25, to wish James Winslow a happy 34th birthday.

The parade was a pleasant surprise for James, who had seen a longtime birthday tradition disrupted by the pandemic. James — who has Down syndrome — had long spent his big day eating slices of pizza with his family at Pizza Hut in Presque Isle, said Jessica Winslow.

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That tradition was no longer possible because of the shutdown. So Jessica — who was familiar with other families organizing birthday parades using social media — made a few calls and posted the event on Facebook. Other Winslows helped spread the word.

A massive outpouring of support followed, with people coming from all sectors of The County to help make James’ birthday a special one.

More than a hundred cars passed by James, who sat at the curb in a folding chair. Many held up colorful homemade signs wishing him well. Others gave him gifts, including several purses, which James collects.

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Cars bearing the symbols of numerous local agencies could be spotted, including the Maine Warden Service, Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office, Presque Isle Police Department, Mapleton, Castle Hill and Chapman Fire Department, Presque Isle Fire Department and Maine Forest Service, among others.

Costumed members of the Anah Temple Shrine clowns, already in the Presque Isle-area, also participated in the display.

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All the while, Winslow family friend Jim Crane flew above in his 2017 CubCrafters Carbon Cub airplane, unleashing a smoke show in the sky for all to see.

Crane — who lives in Exeter — said he was happy to be part of the celebration. As he watched from his aircraft as all of the cars paraded in front of James, he noted how hospitable Aroostook County could be.

It was a sentiment shared by Jessica Winslow and the rest of the Winslow family, many of whom were shocked and delighted by the numbers of people who had come by to support James.

“We live in a very special place. There is nothing like Northern Maine,” Jessica Winslow said. “People come out and support each other and I think this was a great example of how our community does that.”