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Parade surprises former Atlantic County pastor for 80th birthday
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Parade surprises former Atlantic County pastor for 80th birthday

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EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The Rev. Josef Wagenhoffer, former pastor in Somers Point and Pleasantville, turned 80 on Saturday.

Due to the pandemic, “Father Joe,” as he is affectionately known, was not expecting any celebration to mark the occasion. But some of his admirers could not let his birthday pass quietly, pandemic or not. So some of the girls working in the St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church rectory, along with volunteers and friends, decided to surprise him.

A Pleasantville police car led the way down Bay Avenue on Saturday morning. Wagenhoffer sat on the deck of his home with friends Anne and Ellen Hyatt, who had stopped by with his favorite chocolate cake. Upon seeing the police car, Wagenhoffer commented to his guests, “Wonder what’s wrong?”

He quickly realized the conga line of cars decorated with balloons and happy birthday signs following the officer was in his honor.

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“I have never had a surprise party in my life, and this is surely the biggest surprise of all,” said Wagenhoffer once he realized the parade was a line of friends that wanted to make his 80th an event to remember. Lisa Weiss, who works in the St. Joseph parish office, said they would have held a party for their former pastor, but due to state stay-at-home orders, they needed to come up with another plan to celebrate.

According to St. Joseph volunteer Ellen Hyatt, the pastor was shocked to have so many friends remember his birthday and just kept saying, “I have never had anything like this.”

Wagenhoffer is originally from Gloucester County. He was a teacher at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon for many years, a former chaplain at Stockton University, a pastor at St. Peter’s of Pleasantville from 1979-96 and the pastor at St. Joseph in Somers Point from 1995 until his retirement in 2011. He now lives in Egg Harbor Township.

Once the cars passed the deck where Wagenhoffer waved to his friends, everyone got out of their cars and, keeping with social distancing, remained apart but serenaded their former pastor with a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”

Weiss said Wagenhoffer always did whatever he could to make everyone around him feel special, so on Saturday, his friends returned the favor.

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