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North Hills Monthly

Surprise Party Includes Hundreds of Celebrity Wishes

Feb 27, 2015 06:38PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch
Gibsonia resident Kathy Mihaly had not an inkling of what awaited her on January 31. After spending the morning in the Strip District with her husband, Steve, and friends from New Jersey, she came home to find more than 50 of her closest friends and family waiting to yell, “Surprise!”

For 18 months, her husband was a master of deception, planning, plotting, scheming and coming up with all sorts of ruses in order to throw his wife the most memorable 60th birthday party ever. But the party was only part of the surprise. What had taken Mihaly a year-and-a-half to organize were the nine albums filled with cards from 240 celebrities expressing birthday wishes.

Building on a project he had undertaken when his daughter, Katie, graduated high school in 2007, Mihaly spent over a year writing to actors, musicians, politicians and athletes, requesting that they send personalized birthday wishes to his wife. At the time, Kathy was considering retiring from her job as a substitute school nurse at the end of the school year, so many of the letters also wished her a happy retirement.

“There were three primary focus areas,” said Steve Mihaly. “Old-time TV stars that we had grown up with, strong women, and famous people in the Pittsburgh area.” Kathy received messages from Carol Burnett, Barbara Eden, Barbara Feldon, Adam West, Mike Tomlin, Bruno Sammartino, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama, among others.

Mihaly estimates that he received a 90 percent response rate from the celebrities he contacted. “I made it very clear to them why I was writing—that it was for my wife. I wanted them to personalize it to Kathy. I wanted them to understand that I was not writing to them to secretly sell it on eBay. If it’s personalized, it’s only valuable to that individual. That is why the response was so terrific,” he explained.

So how did he explain the flood of mail from celebrities arriving in the mailbox? He simply told his wife that he was collecting autographs for his daughter, who is finishing up a master’s degree, and he told his daughter that he was collecting autographs for his wife. Neither was tempted to open the mail and delivered the letters right to Mihaly. “I literally did both projects side by side,” he said.

Mihaly and his family also spent the better part of a year-and-a-half researching potential caterers, because he told them that he was on a quest to find the city’s best deli. After many weekend lunches, he knew that he had found his caterer when, after eating at Scuillo’s in Gibsonia, his wife declared, “That was the best turkey sandwich I have ever had in my life.”

Although it was a resounding success, Mihaly said that the toughest part of the planning process was holding the party at home and having letters and RSVPs come pouring in. “I’d have to shut off my cell phone clandestinely or go outside and turn it on without anyone there,” he recalled.

Kathy, who turned 60 on February 3, was genuinely surprised and touched. “I had no inkling, none whatsoever,” she said of the surprise. “It was so wonderful just seeing so many of the different people that I know from different things, like the people I worked with at several different school districts. I see my sister a lot, but they live in Baltimore and they were here, along with people from church and our neighbors.”

Kathy said that she is enjoying going through the albums, and that one birthday wish that stood out for her was from Robin Williams, who passed away last August. The final part of the surprise was a dream trip to Turks and Cacaos, which the couple will take in the spring with their close friends.

“The best part for me was that my wife has been very, very supportive of me and my business career over the last 35 years, and it was just really nice to be able to give back and have a special day dedicated to her,” said Mihaly.

As for whether she expected such a special surprise from her husband, Kathy said, “No, never! I tried a surprise party for him years ago, but it didn’t work. People who worked for him had the biggest mouths and they couldn’t keep a secret!”