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 big occasion. But some of his many admirers could not let his birthday pass quietly, pandemic or not. Some of the girls working in the rectory along with volunteers and friends decided to surprise him.

A Pleasantville Police car led the way down Bay Avenue Saturday morning, Fr. Joe was sitting on the deck of his home with friends Anne and Ellen Hyatt who had stopped by with his favorite chocolate cake. Wagenhoffer commented to his guests, “Wonder what’s wrong?” He quickly realized that a conga line of cars decorated with balloons and happy birthday sign followed behind the officer was in his honor.

“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 parish office said they would have held a party for their former pastor but due to the pandemic stay at home order they needed to come up with another plan to celebrate.

According to St. Joseph Parish volunteer, Ellen Hyatt who was with Wagenhoffer during the parade, the beloved 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 but put down roots in Atlantic County. He was a teacher at Holy Spirit High School for many years, a former chaplain at Stockton University, pastor at St. Peter’s of Pleasantville from 1979-1996 and the pastor at St. Joseph in Somers Point from 1995 until his retirement in 2011. He now resides 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. As Weiss explained, Wagenhoffer always did whatever he could to make everyone around him feel special, on Saturday his friends returned the favor.

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