By Denise Bacon
January 28 is an auspicious date for Fran Keeler. She was born on January 28, 1928 in Scarborough and she celebrated her 91st birthday in style this year.
Fran and her late husband, Ken, moved into their brand new Centennial Road home 63 years ago on January 28, 1956 with great excitement about this “new” area. Fran’s stories are rich with detail about their time in the community and her enjoyment of her life now.
After years of walking when car rides were not available to her, Fran decided it was time to get her driver’s licence at the age of 45. She signed up for lessons at a local driving school and insisted that she be taught well enough to pass her first driving test on, you guessed it, January 28! Today, Fran proudly cruises around in her black 2018 Dodge RAM 1500 truck. She certainly is “queen of the road” and lives a full and independent life, even after Ken, the love of her life, passed away in 2016 after 65 years of marriage.
Fran recalled regularly walking to Port Union Road to pick mushrooms for dinner in the early days when Port Union was still a two-lane dirt road. She used to walk up to Highway 2 every day through the hot summers and cold, snowy winters to catch the Grey Coach bus to get to her job at an insurance company downtown. This walk was one of the catalysts that got Fran driving!
Fran’s home is one of the few remaining original homes on Centennial Road. An interesting tidbit shared by Fran was that Centennial Road is the wide boulevard we enjoy today because Johns Manville built the road to accommodate the big trucks that travelled to and from its plant near the lake.
She spoke fondly about Bill Dempsey, the founding president of CCRA, who fought for them many years ago to avoid having the city create an easement through their backyard. She and Ken knew Bill well and they were always appreciative of his work and advocacy for the neighbourhood. The well from which the house drew water was eventually replaced by the city’s main water supply and the house has undergone renovations over the years. The garage remains the original structure as city permits were not granted to replace the garage at the time of the requests.
Fran talked about sharing a telephone party line with three neighbours for many years. She recalled many a time lifting the receiver to make a call in the evening only to hear a neighbour’s voice asking her to hang up! The frustration led to Fran getting a private line in 1956, a bit of a luxury at the time. She grinned as she told about still having that original black rotary dial telephone.
Fran has been a member of CCRA continuously since moving into the neighbourhood. She used to canvass homes on Centennial Road for memberships from 1972 to 1977 and knew many of the residents. A few of the original owners are still around, but Fran has noticed the neighbourhood changing as the life cycle goes around and younger families are moving back.
When I asked about the secret to her youth and zest for life, Fran effused about being active and busy. She is an avid “crossworder” with crossword books and newspapers. Her home is a showcase of beautiful decoupage, cross-stitch, ceramics and macramé artistically handcrafted by Fran over the years. She is captain of her bowling team at her weekly league where she seems quite a contender. A lawn service looks after mowing the large property, but Fran does her own housekeeping, gardening and snow shoveling. She does not relish the idea of waiting for someone to shovel her driveway when she wants to get out and about, so she just looks after the snow herself!
Fran shares her warm home with Baby, her 14-year-old cat, and Harley, a friendly parrot. Both pets were adopted from a close friend and they rule the home, she says.
Fran is the epitome of Centennial. She loves the neighbourhood and spends most of her time here, patronizing local shops and enjoying the peaceful lifestyle.
Happy 91st birthday, Fran! Keep on trucking!