This story has been updated August 5, 2015.
Six hundred people shared six cakes and the happiness of one special five-year-old girl.
Friday night in downtown Hood River was the place to be for Lila May Schow’s birthday party/prom night that featured everything from cakes shaped like castles to a grand arrival by carriage.
The community came up with a grand ball for the fifth birthday of the Hood River girl who has fought neuroblastoma cancer for the past three years. Her birthday, bash that it was, will probably be her last, according to her family.
The party was at Butler Bank Building, the former city hall-turned-event space, and it was an event the like of which Hood River has never seen. Princesses and princes of all shapes and sizes greeted her as she got off the horse-drawn carriage driven by Alan Bennett of White Salmon, one of dozens of individuals and groups to donate to the party.
About 200 people lined the sidewalk at Oak and Fourth streets, while another 200 or so awaited inside the building — transformed into an enchanted castle of sorts, complete with wooden draw bridge installed in the entryway.
“Just being able to pull up in the carriage and see all those people, it was so magical for them,” said family friend and event organizer Jenny Lorenzen.
More royalty awaited, with the two main princes in her life, father Ryan Schow and stepdad Blake Hall, giving Lila the first dances of the night as the crowd watched, surrounded by balloons, bunting, bright lights, and all those birthday cakes.
“It was so healing and yet so humbling,” Lorenzen said.
Lila May got a surprise from Hollywood royalty: actor Kristen Bell, who played Anna in the animated mega-hit “Frozen,” left Lila a phone message on Friday.
“Lila May’s fifth birthday was incredible! We woke up this morning thinking it was a beautiful dream, and then realized it was real,” her mother, Heidi Hall, wrote on Facebook. “Lila said she had her own fairytale ball for her birthday. Brought tears to my eyes... this momma is happy. My heart is full! Thank you for making Lila feel so special in her big day.”
Lorenzen said, “It was exactly what Lila was hoping for. Everything came together well. It was very emotional, looking around, hard, but she was five and being a kid and having fun.
“When we showed up in the carriage, we were trying to get inside with Lila, and it was swarmed with people. It was so funny to see that.” On the corner outside, people could watch a monitor of proceedings inside. (The film “Cinderella” showed before Lila’s arrival.)
“People just kept a steady flow after the initial events,” Lorenzen said. “Everyone wanted to see the initial dance, then once that ended, people were happy to filter through and go outside, where there was so much else going on.”
As for the donated cakes, some of them platters of ornate cupcakes, “We still had tons left over,” Lorenzen said.
“There were so many people, and we just thank everyone who donated. They came from all over, The Dalles, the greater Portland area.” Lorenzen had help from many quarters, including Stephanie Laur of Union Event Co., which manages Butler Bank Building, Cathy Carter, and a the pink-and-black-clad “Princess Patrol,” who “just did whatever was needed of us,” said Shawna Russell of Hood River. “Some of us have been here since 10 this morning,” she said.
“It’s really nice to get able to give back to the community,” she said. “We’re all mothers, and we can see ourselves in this family’s shoes.”
Help came from all over. People from Hood River, The Dalles and Bingen took over food, beverage, candy, face-painting and games stations on Fourth Street (closed for the evening) and the back parking lot of Butler Building. Those helpers included Dan and Shannon Armstrong of Bingen and their kids.
Shannon Armstrong said, “We heard Lila’s May story, and I said to Dan, ‘there is a special girl, do you want to get behind it?’
“We asked what we could do and they said, ‘can you do a candy station?’” Dan said.
“We said, ‘yes, we can do that’ — and look, 400 pounds of candy later,” added Shannon, pointing to glass jars filled with chocolate, taffy, jaw breakers and more, and bags of it filling a large plastic tub.
Michelle Honeman, aka Sugar Mama Bakery, came from Forest Grove with a multi-tiered castle cake.
“I saw (the party announced) on Facebook, and all my friends know me for doing cakes, and everyone tagged me,” she said. “I am really happy to do this.”
Lila’s story was published Friday in the Oregonian newspaper, and OregonLive, along with Portland channels 2 and 6, provided live reports. Lorenzen said, “It was mind-blowing when we keep getting messages like ‘we saw this in Detroit,’ or Texas. It has gone everywhere.”
Lorenzen said, “Heidi was completely humbled by the amount of love they feel from everyone all over, showing them how much support they have in these last few months with Lila.
“Heidi wanted to make this a public event first and foremost because the Hood River community has so taken them in,” she said. “They were relatively new residents when Lila was diagnosed 3 years ago and the way the community has made it so important to everyone, the family wanted to give back and let people celebrate and be a part of it. Truly this town has supported them so much, and they are humbled and forever grateful for what people have done for them.”
Next step for the family is “to enjoy their time with Lila,” including a trip to a Hawaii Disney destination.
Lila May is still going through her birthday cards, but mail is something she truly enjoys, according to Lorenzen.
Cards and donations may be mailed to PO Box 125 Hood River, OR 97031.
Check Lila May’s Facebook page for updates.