Pandemic can’t rain on this Laguna Beach woman’s 96th-birthday parade

Maria Siani waves to friends and family as she is greeted with a drive-by surprise 96th-birthday party in front of her home in Laguna Beach on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Maria Siani was born April 15, 1924.

On her birthday, her daughter, Sandra, usually takes her out to dinner to be with family and friends. Sometimes they’ll go to Siani‘s brother’s house in Carlsbad, but it’s never just her and Sandra on her birthday. This year, things changed.

The coronavirus pandemic swept the country and a litany of closures and other restrictions began with the intent to stop gatherings.

“My daughter never leaves any stone unturned on my birthday,” Siani said Thursday. “She always wants to celebrate my birthday, and I’m 96.”

Siani said she didn’t expect a celebration, much less a parade of people she knew to come down Dolphin Way. Sandra said her mother hadn’t left the house since the governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order a month ago.

But there they were — friends, former co-workers, Laguna Beach Fire Department Division Chief Api Weinert and an ambulance driving by her home Wednesday evening to wish her well. From her chair in front of her house, Siani was the grand marshal of her own birthday parade.

Neighbors celebrate Maria Siani's 96th birthday with a drive-by surprise party in front of her home in Laguna Beach on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“What really got me was when I saw the amount of people there. Maybe I haven’t talked to them for a few months and here they are in line for my birthday,” Siani said. “That’s really something. They take a trip to come down and just to march around the block.”

Some came bearing gifts and others decorated their cars with signs and balloons as they looped the street.

Sandra said she had been trying to think of a way to celebrate her mother’s birthday while keeping her safe and wanted to do something creative. That’s when she thought of organizing a car parade.

“I didn’t want it to be the same old, same old on her birthday. It should be special,” she said.

Sandra said she thought of the idea last weekend and started calling people Monday and Tuesday to gather as many as she could.

Maria Siani of Laguna Beach laughs as a neighbor delivers a package of tissue during a drive-by surprise party for Siani's 96th birthday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Her cousin Michele Palma-Koschel said she drove from San Clemente to participate in the parade.

“I just felt like I really had to be a part of this,” Palma-Koschel said. “Everything that surrounds Maria is just magical. She’s a magical woman and so I packed up my little one and headed up north to be a part of this special parade.”

Celeste Signorino, Siani’s neighbor, said she got the call from Sandra to participate and said yes immediately.

“I think it’s an honor to honor anyone who’s turning 96,” Signorino said. “That’s just absolutely incredible and for me, it was the most heartwarming, best birthday party I have been to in years. To see the look on Maria’s face, the joy, to see all the neighbors, the whole community actually coming out.”

Signorino said that even if some neighbors didn’t know Siani, she felt it a “gift” to see the community come together to celebrate with her.

Jerry McConnachie said he took the day off from work to drive from San Pedro with his girlfriend to participate in the parade. McConnachie said he has known Sandra and her mother for decades.

“Sandra’s mother is just a sweet lady,” he said.

Maria Siani laughs as friends and family members greet her with a drive-by surprise party Wednesday in front of her Laguna Beach home to celebrate her 96th birthday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Karen Serrano said she’s known Maria and Sandra for almost 46 years and said Maria was like a second mom to her.

“When Sandra asked me what I thought of a parade for her 96th birthday, I was thrilled to be a part of it. Maria is one of the kindest, most generous people I know and she deserves nothing but the best, so I was ecstatic that so many people turned out to honor her on her special day,” Serrano said. “It was very heartwarming to see people who have known her for many years come out and parade by her house. It was really fun and I know it made her day.”

McConnachie said the event “inspires people to be proactive to make things like this happen ... because let’s face it, everything’s shut down. People have to think outside the box.”

“To me, that’s profound,” he added.

Though the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the original plans for her daughter Madison’s 16th birthday, Dawne Moore still wanted to celebrate somehow. So Tuesday night, a group of Madison’s friends helped light paper lanterns and release them into the sky.

“When you look at all the people that came, you ... see all the people that care for me that want to celebrate with me. It makes it very special,” Siani said. “I’m honored and appreciative of all the people that came out to help me celebrate my 96th birthday with me.”

“I am looking forward to my 100th,” she said with a laugh.

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