The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 31, 2013

Ashtabula County ladies have been friends for 91 years

Eleanor and Edith have known each other since they were 3 and 4 years old

By DAVE DELUCA - For the Star Beacon
Star Beacon

— True friendship is hard to define. In today’s world of social media, friendship is fleeting, often not lasting longer than a day. People share likes and dislikes online and then “de-friend” each other without ever meeting. But for two Ashtabula women, true friendship easy to define. It’s 91 years of companionship, concern, and communication.

The story of Eleanor (Podges) Keener and Edith (Austin) Cary’s friendship is a slice of Ohio history. Keener’s family emigrated from Germany to Cleveland during the great immigration wave of the early 20th Century, then bought a 100-acre farm in Plymouth Township. Cary’s family dates back to early Ashtabula County, and she counts Civil War soldiers among her ancestors. Cary is 94 and Keener is 95.

“We’ve known each other since we were 3 and 4,” said Keener.

“We lived down the road from each other,” Cary said.

Both grew up on Plymouth farms back in the days when State Road was known as “90 Road.” They remember walking a half-mile every day to a one-room schoolhouse. Eight grades were crammed into one teaching space. “It was a little red schoolhouse, just like in the movies,” Keener said. “There was a pot-bellied stove and outdoor restroom for both boys and girls.”

“The teacher was Mrs. Frederica Mann,” Cary chimed-in.

Cary and Keener were good enough students to be advanced early together from second to third grade. But they were also high-spirited enough to recall what happened if they irritated Mrs. Mann. “She would make us sit with they boys, which we didn’t like back then,” Keener said.

“Or you’d have to stand in the corner,” Cary said.

When Cary and Keener graduated from Plymouth Central School, they went on to Ashtabula High School. There were no busses then so they had to walk from Plymouth Township, occasionally getting a ride one way from a parent with a car. Whether the weather was good or bad, it was a trek. They graduated at age 16 in 1935, one year before the busses started running.

After that Keener attended Ashtabula Business College on Main Avenue, joined less than a year later by Cary. Keener took stenography, typing, short hand and multi-graph. Cary took secretarial studies. In 1937 they graduated. Cary began working at Sears on Main Avenue and Keener took a job at Mitchell Hardware. It was rare for farm daughters to go to college during the depression, but they wanted to improve themselves and their families saved to help them go. For fun Keener and Cary needed to look no further than Main Avenue. There were sweets shops, theaters, soda fountains and dance halls. One favorite destination was Chekouras’s Candy Land. There were the Palace and Casto Theaters. There were abundant places to eat.

“Sometimes we’d take the streetcar if we didn’t feel like walking,” Keener said.

“There was something to do everywhere,” Cary said.

When Keener got her driver’s license, the world got even bigger. She said, “Geneva-On-The-Lake was a big destination.”

Cary said, “We saw all the big bands there.”

Keener married Melvin Keener in 1940 and Cary married Robert Cary in 1941. Their families became best friends during the 1950s and remained so for decades. They both have grandchildren, great and even great-great grandchildren now. Both of their husbands have passed. They still visit or communicate daily. They even use the Internet occasionally. When asked why their friendship has lasted so long, Keener said, “I think it was farm life, playing in the hay, all that.”

Cary said jokingly, “I just don’t think we knew any better. We were just best friends.”