An 80-year-old native North Carolinian was treated to a surprise birthday party Saturday as her family arranged a visit to the hometown she got to know and love through “The Andy Griffith Show.” According to family, Joyce Antill’s story could have very well been scripted from television.
Daughters Ell Shaw and Virginia Lee said Antill was born and raised in Belhaven, North Carolina, and now lives with her husband, Wilbert “Tillie” Antill in Marietta, Ohio. Antill’s sister from Elizabeth City, Sandy Davenport, confirms the couple, which have been married 63 years, met in a Dr. Pepper shop.
Davenport said on that night in 1951, Joyce (who was 16 at the time) sat alone in the shop. Her husband-to-be, Wilbert (who is a Korean War veteran and was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps at the time), just happened in and struck up a conversation, only to find out she was in the shop on her birthday…and had never been kissed. The Marine Corps, vaunted ability to adapt and overcome notwithstanding, Antill said he could fix that and the two were later married on July 5, 1951. Wilbert wore his dress blues.
Among the many things the couple later shared was a love of “The Andy Griffith Show” and bluegrass music. Visiting “Mayberry” had always been on their list of things to do but the opportunity never presented itself. The children wanted to do something special for their mom after Wilbert participated in a Freedom Honor Flight. These flights are organized to fly veterans to visit the memorials that stand in their honor. Family members said down through the years, Wilbert’s choice of hair style drew many comments he looked like Griffith, which is another connection to the television show.
Joyce Antill’s niece, Tammy Parcell, who lives in Virginia, connected the dots and proposed a surprise party in Mount Airy on the pretense of the couple going to visit family elsewhere in North Carolina. In the final stages of planning, Wilbert was given the surprise party information to help keep the secret from Joyce. More than 10 family members were on hand Saturday at Sagebrush Steakhouse to surprise their mother. The featured birthday cake was provided by We Sisters Bakery.
“I have enjoyed helping put this together,” said Virginia Lee. “She has never spent a birthday in her home state or been able to share it with her entire family from Ohio along with some in North Carolina. Everyone we have talked with down there has been so helpful and seem just as excited about making this the most wonderful surprise for mom. I have never known a town to be this helpful.”
She said the Earle Theatre also had reserved a section for the Antills for Saturday night’s show and performers would sing happy birthday to Joyce. Television-themed surprises seem to be a staple for the Antills, who said the family had once staged their own version of “The Newlywed Game” with the two scoring high marks on knowledge about each other.
“They did a good job surprising me,” said Joyce Antill. “I have always wanted to come here but wasn’t ever able to stop in. I really enjoyed visiting Main Street and Farm Fest and I liked the music. My husband watches ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ every day.” The couple agreed the most powerful things about the show were its comedy and values about enjoying family and those who do right always win.
Lee said she couldn’t wait to come here and “enjoy the greatest town in the world.” She said if anyone ever asks her of a place she knows to visit, she would tell them Mount Airy is definitely the place to go.
David Broyles may be reached at 3360179-1952 or on twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.