Ray and Nicole Johnson, residents on Woodsong Court in Dunwoody, held the neighborhood’s annual Easter party at their home on March 30.

Todd Koetje raced from the backyard to breathlessly announce a special guest’s arrival.

“Hey, guys,” he yelled to 50 or so people – about half adults, half kids – gathered for their neighborhood Easter party at Ray and Nicole Johnson’s house. “I just saw the Easter Bunny. The Easter Bunny is here.”

Moments later, the big rabbit himself hopped into view. Woodsong Court’s own Easter Bunny had returned. He paid his annual visit to the Dunwoody cul-de-sac on the Saturday before the holiday as the neighborhood kids were hunting Easter eggs, and moms and dads and a few grandparents gathered for brunch.

This bunny stood at least six feet tall, had floppy ears, was covered head-to-toe in fluffy white fur, wore a brightly colored vest and a rubbery nose, and looked surprisingly like Koetje’s neighbor Jess Brown in a bunny suit.

Far left, Peyton Koetje, with other neighborhood children, center, from left, Lucy Johnson, Iris Williams, Annie Quinn and Bennett Brown, are eager to share their findings with Ashley Koetje, far right, during Woodsong Court’s Easter festivities on March 30.

Woodsong Court’s Easter Bunny has appeared at the neighborhood’s holiday party every year since 2008. A Woodsong dad has worn the big bunny suit each year. There’s a tradition to determine which dad will appear as the bunny: whoever has the last-place team in the neighborhood fantasy football league wins the honor, or perhaps dishonor. Except this year, when the last-place finisher had a conflict, so Brown stepped in to fill the bunny gap.

As he hopped into the yard, everyone gathered around to welcome him. Everyone, that is, except Brown’s own kids. They bolted. “My kids, it’s like their minds are blown,” Brown, a 32-year-old who usually handles financial matters for a contracting and consulting company, said later. “The only two scared kids were mine.”

It turns out that Easter Bunnies get used to a little rejection. The year Koetje wore the suit, his kids ran away at the sight of him. His description of his turn as the big bunny: “It’s great. You get a bunch of middle-aged kids running around with Whiffle ball bats trying to hit you. It’s hot and it’s sweaty, and your kids don’t recognize you and start to cry, which is OK because you don’t want them to remember you did it.”

But everybody else remembers who wore the suit. This is how holiday memories are made.

Woodsong Court and nearby Woodsong Trail, residents say, make up a little island surrounded by larger neighborhoods. Their island is a place where everybody knows everybody. Residents get together regularly. They swap ornaments at Christmas and hold a big Halloween party. They have a website to trade info. “This is a great neighborhood,” April Williams said.

They look out for one another. Nehal and Samantha Desai said their younger son was born just 19 days after they moved in and neighbors kept dropping by night after night to wish them well and deliver covered dishes. “People kept bringing us food,” Desai said with a smile.

Party hostess Nicole Johnson helps daughter Emma with the eggs.

They don’t have a homeowners association to hold them together – no pool or tennis facilities to operate – so they’ve invented their own community organizations. The wives call themselves the “Women of Woodsong,” proudly known as “the WOWs.” They gather for “girls’ night out,” and organize the holiday parties. Their husbands responded with the Men of Woodsong, or “the MOWs,” who gather around a backyard fire pit to talk and drink beer. And, of course, to provide someone to fill the bunny suit.

This year’s bunny got a workout. Brown’s bunny hopped with the kids and posed for photos with just about everybody. “It’s a bit warm in this thing,” he admitted after a while. “My lungs are burning.”

Good to know. Brown will have his chance to warn others who don the community bunny suit in the future that they should do a little stretching before hippityhopping onto the Easter stage. Each dad who wears the suit writes a letter of advice to future bunnies. The letters are handed down from dad to dad during a ceremony the night before the new bunny makes his debut.

How did Brown hold up? “We’re good,” he said, holding his arms aloft like a winning ballplayer during March Madness. “I’m feeling the bunny. It’s that Easter pride.”

What Easter pride? He stopped a moment and thought about it. “Helping to continue the tradition,” he said.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.