Keener celebrates centennial and a lifetime of helping others

By on February 27, 2019

 

Mary Keener, of Fairmount Homes in Ephrata, recently celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 25.  Photo by Emily Jacoby

Mary Keener, of Fairmount Homes in Ephrata, recently celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 25. Photo by Emily Jacoby

 

Fairmount Homes resident Mary Keener celebrated her 100th birthday on Monday, Feb. 25, and she continues to spend her time doing what she does best — helping others.

Achieving a centennial birthday is a feat in itself, but a knack for always staying busy and continuing to volunteer helps her “live one day at a time,” according to Keener.

Growing up in the Baumgardner area near Willow Street, she often assisted her neighbors by doing dishes or mowing their lawns.

At 16 years old, Keener finally started to get paid for her labor, and by 18, she was earning $3 per week, helping to dress turkeys, or perform any other tasks that needed to be done on the dairy farm where she worked until she was 25.

In 1944, Keener married Lester Keener and had five children — four girls and one boy. Together, the couple spent many years volunteering at Black Rock Retreat in Quarryville, the Solanco Fair and Camp Andrews in Holtwood.

They also spent time working with Habitat for Humanity in John’s Island, S.C., in 1985-86, where the Keeners helped with cleaning and repairing houses for the locals in the area.

“Lester wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t too hot or too cold, so they sent us to South Carolina and it was almost 100 degrees,” said Keener. “It was mostly black people where we were, and they would dress up because they knew you were there to help…although we only did what needed to be done, since there wasn’t much money for big repairs.”

When volunteering in South Carolina, they were told which house they needed to go to, with most of the homes being low income and without basements, since they were located right by the water, which often brought bugs to the area.

“They had to spray bugs twice a week,” said Keener. “There would always be people out spraying bugs at 4 a.m.”

While volunteering with the Solanco Fair, Keener often worked in the kitchen helping to make pot pie for the fair attendees.

“There were four people and 10 burners for cooking, but when I couldn’t reach the large kettles on the back of the stove anymore, I started measuring the ingredients for the pot pie on Wednesdays. I also washed kettles.”

Once her husband officially retired from Herr’s in Nottingham after 12 years, he also began to help in the kitchen at the fair; and in 2003, Keener and her husband were named Grand Marshals of the Solanco Fair Parade, where they had the opportunity to lead the parade while riding in a horse-drawn carriage.

The years never seemed to slow Keener down one bit as she continued to volunteer for the Solanco Fair by putting up corn during the summer, which would later be frozen until it was needed during fair week.

At 91, Keener traveled to Louisiana with the Mennonite Disaster Service as part of a group from Fairmount Homes, in order to help with the cleanup from hurricanes Ike, Rita and Gustav.

Although she didn’t help rebuilt any houses, Keener volunteered her time in Louisiana by completing chores in the kitchen, and baking.

Due to her help in assisting the hurricane victims and other volunteer work, Keener later earned a Lancaster New Era Red Rose Award in 2010.

“I just like to help,” said Keener.

Since 2006, Keener has resided at Fairmount and continues to lend a hand however possible. She often helps sort and bag candy for bingo prizes, and put out chips. Keener also spent many years sewing school bags for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), creating school kits to send to children in other countries.

When Keener isn’t volunteering, she often enjoys working on puzzles in her room; and according to Keener, sometimes members of the Fairmount staff help her complete them.

“I sleep some of the time,” she said.

Now, at 100, Keener simply wants to keep helping others. Although, she seems to have some traveling in mind before she turns 101.

“I’d like to go to Switzerland,” she said. “I want to see the sheep on the hill, and the trains.”

Emily Jacoby is a staff writer for the Ephrata Review.

 

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