No slowing down for this Kut-Ups dancer
Longtime Merrill Gardens resident Frandi Keeler adds volunteer chores to busy schedule
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By Jud Snyder  October 5, 2012 12:00 am

There are hundreds, maybe a thousand stories throbbing out there about people moving to Rohnert Park and putting down roots in a hundred different ways. Some are subject to media stories, receive plaques or certificates, but the majority simply pick out what they want to do here and do it.

One example is Frandi Keeler, a longtime resident of Merrill Gardens retirement community on Snyder Lane. She recently turned 80, and her highest claim to fame is she’s a dancer with the Kitchen Kut-Ups. Now here’s a group loaded with high-profile stars like Ariel Weymouth-Payne, Larry Broderick, Alan Saunders, Sharon Griffith, Patsy Baxter, Margot Godolphin, Mary Kelly, Jim Fitzgerald plus a troupe of 20 to 30 colorfully costumed dancers.

Picking out one for a story is like being poised with thumb and forefinger over a newly opened box of Lady Godiva chocolates. It isn’t easy. But Frandi has a virtue not every Kut-Up dancer has, for she’s an active volunteer in her town.

Big show and mini-shows
She joined the Kut-Ups in 1986, and danced with the troupe every year in whatever costume they tossed her way. The company doesn’t just do a big show in Spreckels every July, they have what they call “mini-shows,” a trimmed-down, road show troupe performing in other venues, mostly in Santa Rosa.

Frandi and her dancing partner, Warren Coffin, are usually backed by Larry Broderick’s combo in a duo turn on the dance floor in these out-of-town shows.

OK maestro, please, a little background music.

“I was born in San Francico, graduated from Polytechnical High School right next to Kezar Stadium and then went to San Francisco State and majored in business but dropped out to find a job,” Frandi began. She spoke clearly and in measured tones, as if she’s done this many times over the years.

“My maiden name was Francis Dickie. This was shortened to a nick-name “Frandi,” along the way and it stuck. I was married twice, had a daughter and son. My daughter died several years ago but my son, he’s Evan Cutler, moved to Modesto with his wife, and now I have a grandson.

“My mother had a home on Mountain View Avenue just north of RP and I had a younger sister who was married and lived in RP. My mother was slowly aging and we took care of her until she sold her house and moved to Merrill Gardens. She died at the age of 94 in 2006. My sister and her family moved to Fowler, just south of Fresno.” She twisted a few rings on her fingers and ruefully added, “I guess you could say I no longer have relatives here in town.”

The mourning dove saga
OK Frandi, enough vital statistics. Let’s dig a little deeper. Deep pause. “I like to help animals and people, especially birds. I used to raise canaries and have one now.

“I live on the third floor and have potted plants hanging. One day, I noticed a pair of mourning doves made a nest in one of the plants and laid two eggs. I was horrified when I saw a crow come down and take one of the eggs, so I built a shelter with paper around it and left only a small hole for the doves. It worked and all three left shortly after.”

That’s a warm example of her attitude. But did she always have this streak of volunteerism?

“I don’t know. All I know is for more than 10 years, I’ve been volunteering at Thomas Page School, teaching second graders part time. The kids are really an inspiration for me. I don’t know who benefits the most, me, or my young students.

“Then I got involved with Hospice, a wonderful group. They helped me when my husband, John, died. They opened a VNA (Visiting Nurse Association) thrift store near Quincy’s on Commerce Boulevard, and I was the first volunteer to sign up. They later moved their store to near Safeway. I’m still a volunteer for the Hospice Society, for I deeply believe they’re doing a real service to the community.”

Frandi finds time to take exercise classes twice a week at the RP Senior Center and is always on the lookout for other volunteer needs.

“Essentially, I’m a private person. It’s a difficult task here at Merrill Gardens, for there’s so much companionship and so much to do,” she said. She has a cell phone and her own car.

“I like it here,” she added. “I want to be an inspiration to others. I’m a vibrant person despite my private personhood. There’s always a reason for you to inspire someone, no matter your age.”

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