Eighty years later, Danis, 97, finally got the chance to make up for that missed night when her granddaughter, Julie Huddon, 48, presented her with a sparkling crown and a proposition earlier this spring: Let’s go to the prom.
Huddon, who lives in Warwick, invited Danis with a handmade pink invitation in the shape of a heart.
“How could I say no to that?” said Danis. “Of course, I said yes.”
At 97 and 48, they were both a few years beyond the average age of promgoers. But Huddon’s 19-year-old son, Evan, who attends the school, would be there. And the Pilgrim High School principal thought it would be a hoot and agreed.
So on May 24, Huddon arranged for a trolley driver to pick up her and her grandmother, her son and two of his friends, and drive them all to the senior prom. Her son, who has spina bifida, enjoys dancing in his power wheelchair.
“To attend the prom with my great-grandson and my granddaughter made the night even more special,” Danis said.
At the prom, Huddon had arranged for a surprise.
In coordination with principal Gerald Habershaw, Huddon had her grandmother crowned honorary prom queen.
Huddon said she came up with the idea in December, after Danis sat on Santa’s lap for the first time. A relative told her at the time: “You should come up with a little bucket list for your grandmother.”
Huddon, who had always been close with her grandmother, thought that was a great idea, especially since Danis had experienced many tragedies and difficulties in her life. Why not bring some fun into her final years?
"Even though those hard times made her the strong and admirable person she is today, I wanted to do something for her to help make up for some of that,” said Huddon.
When Danis’s mother died after giving birth to her, Danis spent the first six years of her life with her grandmother until her father remarried, she said.
“My father drove over to get me, and I met my stepmother on the day of the wedding,” said Danis. “She raised me after that.”
Money was tight, and after missing her senior prom, Danis said she felt so left out that she decided to drop out of school. “I couldn’t keep up with the other kids,” she said. “Back then, if somebody decided to stop going to school, it didn’t really matter.”
One year later, in 1940, Danis married Lionel Valliere, a millworker like her father. They had three children — two girls and a boy — and were happily building a life together in West Warwick. Then in 1956, Valliere died of brain cancer. To pay the bills, Danis got a job in the sewing department at Newbury’s Department Store.
"It was a hard time, raising three children on my own,” she recalled. “But you do what you have to do."
Over the years, Danis remarried three times, outliving two of her husbands. She has been married to her current husband, Eugene Danis, a former businessman, for 27 years.
"We still live in our home and try to stay as active as we can,” she said. “I actually like to do housework. The only thing is, my husband doesn't like to dance and I do. I've always loved it, especially when I can dance to a polka."
At Pilgrim High Prom Night 2019, her husband was content to sit on the sidelines while Danis primped for the dance.
After running a comb through her soft gray hair and putting on a light touch of red lipstick, Danis slipped into a silky, floor-length dress in her favorite shade of lilac. Huddon had picked it up for her at J.C. Penney “because it reminded me of my Grammie,” she said.
Huddon also offered to buy her grandmother a new pair of shoes, but because Danis was nursing a bunion, she decided that comfort was key if she was going to dance the Cha-Cha and the Cupid Shuffle.
"I wanted to be able to dance, and besides, I'm a 'no fuss' woman,” she said. “No perfume, no hair spray. I can get ready in under 30 minutes."
Wearing matching corsages, she and Huddon arrived with their entourage at the high school and were promptly escorted to the dance floor. Principal Habershaw took a whirl with Danis to the tune of the “Hully Gully,” a popular line dance song from 1959.
"We both had a great time with it, and the students were very receptive,” said Habershaw.
Danis pointed out that they didn’t play a polka. “And the other songs were too loud,” she said. “But I still enjoyed the evening very much.”
After prom royalty was announced, she was thrilled when Habershaw told everyone that his dance partner would be crowned as honorary prom queen.
More than 300 students applauded and cheered, including her great-grandson who had shared a wheelchair dance with her.
“It was such a blessing to have my great-grandmother go to the prom with me, and it was even more special to see her crowned honorary prom queen,” Evan Huddon said.
Julie Huddon said she was “over the moon” with how her grandmother’s special night unfolded.
As for Danis, she said that her first prom was so fulfilling that she won’t be adding any new wishes to her bucket list for a while.
“Skydiving? I don’t think so,” she said. “No, no, no. It’s a little too risky. I’ll stick with the Hully Gully.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story had a misspelling of Helen Danis’s last name.