- Last Updated on Sunday, 20 January 2013 15:08
- Published on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 18:24
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Ada Keys’ life was changed dramatically when her house caught on fire.
She not only lost her home but many worldly possessions which she had accumulated throughout her lifetime, which she maintain has only been 96 years. When this reporter revealed that someone reported seeing her birthday listed on her Medicaid card as June 16th 1906 making her 103 next month she said, “My lord! I’m not that old!”
Wearing high heals and jumping puddles at her new home's construction site should convince anyone that age is a state of mind and that Miss Keys is going through her second, maybe third childhood. Keyes' mind is sharp as a tack. Sometimes she gets a bit forgetful but within minutes what she is trying to remember comes right back to her.
On that fateful day the fire was quickly put out by the Colonial Beach Fire Department only to have it re-ignite an hour later.
Thanks to Chris Saulnier, a Colonial Beach volunteer fireman, some of her belongings were recovered after the second fire was put out. One of those articles was a framed story from a local paper telling the story of how she was the first African American to be allowed permission to ride the famous St. John's paddle boat to Washington DC when she was 18. She lived in D. C. and worked at the Pentagon for 9 years.
Miss Keys is a very strong and independent woman. Many people describe things about her - her good-natured ways, her snappy dress and her vibrant lust for life. But what she is most noticed for is her mode of transportation. She gets around town on her riding lawn mower.
After the fire gutted her home, she was put up in the Day’s Inn Hotel in Colonial Beach where the employees check on her often. The hotel has allowed her to stay rent free until Social Services can reimburse them.
Many people have rallied around Miss Keys, offering help in small ways right after her home was destroyed, but there are a few people who have stuck it out and persevered to help get her into a new home.
Volunteer firefighter Chris Saulnier (aka Pork Chop) and his wife Amanda quickly opened their hearts and schedules to help Miss Keys by checking on her almost daily, taking her to the doctor when needed and shopping, helping with demolition, making sure her riding mower was kept safe and getting the ball rolling to enlist the help of many people and local businesses to help her regain her independence.
After working with Zedda Viets at Miss Key's bank, and looking into her insurance, Chris Saulnier discovered that her insurance fell short of what was needed to replace her house. Not wanting to give up, he got in touch with Danna and Cathy Reed who own D & C Holdings, a Company that specializes in Cardinal Modular Homes.
Chris and Amanda credit the Reeds for getting her house built. But the Reeds credit Chris with keeping them focused and not losing hope.
Once the Reeds knew how much money would be available from insurance, they contacted a network of local contractors and started negotiations to get reduced rates to help get the new house under way. Several companies who either knew of Miss Ada or heard her story all offered work at, or below cost.
C. F. Smith performed the demolition of the old home; Richard Rose and Sons dug the footers, Sonny Camp will be hooking up the water connection, P.D. Lovell will handle the heating and Air. The Trivetts Family Furniture has offered assistance to get furnishings for the home and, of course, the Reed's company, D & C Holdings provided the modular home.
Miss Keys has a strong will.
Westmoreland County Social Worker Toni Carroll has been very helpful making sure that Miss Keys interests have been protected since Miss Keys’ adoptive daughter Ms. Grey lives out of state and could not convince Miss Keys to move in with her. Likewise, Ms. Carroll could not convince Miss Keys to leave the Beach to move into a temporary apartment in Montross while her house was being built.
Miss Keys keeps a cool head.
In an interview with Mrs. Reed she recalled an incident several years ago when she and a friend were at the First Virginia Bank, now BB&T, when they observed a commotion across the street in the 7-11 parking lot which they believed to be a drug bust. A car was blocked in by one Town police car, a county Sheriff's deputy vehicle, and a State police cruiser. Throughout all the commotion they observed Miss Keys ride up in her riding lawn mower, stop at the pump and tap the local police officer on the shoulder and ask him to help her pump her gas, never once being concerned with the police activity going on around her.
Even without her house Miss Keys has never lost her faith in God.
Ada says you take the first step and God will make two for you.
During a day at the site of her old home shortly after it was torn down Amanda Saulnier set out a picnic lunch for everyone. Amanda and Cathy observed Miss Ada taking a moment to say her prayers before eating. Every day she puts her life in God's hands and cherishes every moment of life.
Even though she is relying on many people until her home is built, she still maintains her independent spirit. One day Amanda went to check on Miss Ada and she was nowhere to be found. A few hours later she was found walking in her high heals coming back from the bank and Town Hall.
Keys was walking one day around the construction site of her new home when Amanda took her arm to try to help her navigate a puddle. Just before she could get the words out to walk around one side, Miss Keys hopped over the puddle. When this reporter met with Miss Keys at the site on Monday Miss Keys was in red high heels and continued to say, "Watch your step."
Even though the project ran into a delay with Virginia Power which is now resolved, the Reeds are hoping to have the house complete and an occupancy permit sometime in May.
The new home will have all new appliances, central heat and air, a large screened in back porch, and small front porch and furniture.
Cathy Reed has known Miss Keys for years and said, “If you live in the Beach, you can’t help but get to know her, she is so friendly.” Cathy recalls many times seeing Miss Keys walking in the snow or heat of summer and offering her a ride. But Cathy was quick to say many people in this town have helped Miss Keys and wants to thank everyone over the years that have helped her out.
All who have been involved in this rebuilding would like to set up an account at the BB&T bank for anyone interested in giving a donation as Miss Keys will be in need of the little items such as small appliances, toiletries, clothes, dishes and cookware just to name a few.
Any one who wishes to make a donation before the account is set up can contact Cathy for information.
People with soft hearts and strong wills seem to gravitate towards each other and you can rest assured those people in Colonial Beach will all be celebrating together with Miss Keys when her new house is built.