How do you throw a surprise party for a soon-to-be 80 year old who’s probably seen all the tricks in the book by now?  With trickery, mini surprises and dueling pianos of course!  And hey, might as well make it two months before his birthday so he’s completely thrown off.

Mike Sherman (who is back on his feet after that leg injury earlier this summer!) and I were summoned to the Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center in Zion, IL to help surprise Ed, a 79 year old beloved grandfather and active member of many Northern Illinois communities.  He’d been told to show up for a surprise party for his daughter-in-law, whose birthday actually falls before his, and was met with a crowd of about 100 people all there to celebrate him!  As big as this surprise was for Ed, I think just about everyone was surprised by one thing or another throughout the course of the evening.

First of all, this place was unbelievable.  We got to the Illinois Beach Resort and it felt like we’d teleported to California… the beach was amazing and the facility itself featured an incredible view!  The biggest surprise of the evening for us, though, came after we’d all surprised Ed and everyone was sitting down for a pre-dinner blessing.

Wait.  Is that… the Pope?!

Ed had been a deacon and active member at his church, so naturally a few priests were in attendance.  One, a close friend of his, was invited to say the blessing before everyone enjoyed the buffet, and to our surprise he brought a gift bag up with him as we lent him our microphone.  He began by noting how amazing it was that so many people showed up to this party, but that it made perfect sense because of how loved he was.  Then, he said there is one person that really wanted to be there but couldn’t, so he brought this person with him.  That’s when he reached into the gift bag and pulled out a ceramic bust of Pope John Paul II.  When the blessing was finished and tables started getting up to get food, instead of giving the Pope to Ed or placing it back in the bag, the Pope took his own seat… directly in front of the pianos and facing the stage.

We took a break for dinner while everyone played trivia games about Ed, and had a chance to notice that each table was decorated with fun facts about him (some of which I’m not sure Ed was thrilled were shared publicly, haha.)  Throughout the course of the evening it seemed everyone had a special memory with him, and it was actually pretty cool to learn about this guy who obviously has a sense of humor.  That fact worked out great, since the Pope was still supervising the dance floor of the Illinois Beach Resort by the time we started dueling.

80th B-day at Illinois Beach Resort

Ed’s 80th Table

We got all sorts of requests from all kinds of genres, and after we finally convinced everyone that they didn’t have to dance just around the perimeter of the dance floor, it seemed everyone had a great time dancing (and observing the “save room for the Holy Ghost” rule.) 😉

It was really touching to see how many people came out to celebrate together.  As the night died down and the dueling stopped, the Illinois Beach Resort actually had a fire pit set up for them outside to enjoy… I’d never seen something like that before!  Then again, there were a lot of things I’d never seen before that night.  If there’s one thing you can be certain about regarding a dueling pianos show, it’s that it’ll never be the same twice.

For more information on the Illinois Beach Resort in Zion, IL, visit  To book Felix and Fingers at your next event, visit

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