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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Talented beyond measure

Akron Beacon Journal
By Jewell Cardwell Beacon Journal columnist

At 96, Frances Aileen Elizabeth Strabley Krieger Rebenack is the real-life embodiment of that wise adage “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’ ”

Indeed, Frances Rebenack’s life’s resume is just that inspiring.

She uses a wheelchair these days; but oh what roads she’s been on. The less traveled, of course.

Some of her posse gathered Sunday to toast her uncommon appetite for life at quite the appropriate venue: Roses Run Golf Course in Stow.

This special, red-carpet-like outing was arranged by Bob Pontius from Crossroads Hospice and its Ultimate Gift program which asks of its clients “If you have one day left, what would it look like?”

The answer for Mrs. Rebenack was a no-brainer. Golf.

Before frailness and dementia set in a couple of years ago and she moved into Arden Courts of Bath Assisted Living for Alzheimer’s, Mrs. Rebenack literally lived to golf, said her 69-year-old daughter Dianne Demko of Copley Township.

Fortunate for her family and friends, Mrs. Rebenack’s dementia is not a constant. “There are some days I feel I have my Mom back!” Demko said, counting her blessings.

“She started golfing as a teenager. That meant she was on the golf course long before women were welcomed there.”

“Well, let me tell you, they still aren’t,” the petite woman with the snowy white hair deadpanned.

“She was so good that she was told she could have turned pro,” her daughter and sometimes caddy said.

The plan this day, said Pontius, was to get the honoree and her golf buddies out on the green.

But it proved a tad too cold and rainy. So, Mrs. Rebenack kicked back in the clubhouse, ordered a beer, talked about old times and enjoyed the royal attention.

Before retiring her putter in 2007 — her last golf trip to Florida “with the girls” — she had racked up 72 years of playing golf; continuously.

“Whenever there was a nice day in January with no snow you could find Mom on the golf course,” Demko said.

League still active.

So dedicated to the sport, she started her own traveling women’s league “The Bag Ladies” 40 years ago. The league — which is still active and led today by Vera Pedigo and Mary Ann Plonsky — is known by a more upscale name “The Fairway Ladies.” They number 24; 12 of whom are in a pinochle card club, too.

“You couldn’t keep Mom down until a few years ago,” Demko marveled at her mother’s energy.

Lest you think otherwise, Sunday’s honoree didn’t come from a charmed-life background. She had to work for every dime to put food on the table, to take care of her daughter and her golfing habit.

Of course, she always had a strong assist from her own mother with meal preparation and Dianne who shared some of what her Mom has meant to her in a mini biography:

“Mom was born March 21, 1915, and was always proud to be life-long resident of Akron, Ohio,” Demko wrote. “She attended St. Mary Grade and High schools, graduating in 1933, and is the last living member of her class of 26, (13 boys and 13 girls). She then completed Akron Hammel Business School with a two-year degree in business in 1935. Mom has never quit learning; she loves uncovering knowledge, and still uncovers new tidbits today.”

“The two most important things in this life to my Mom are her Catholic faith and her family, and she can be a charging lioness about both when she feels it necessary,” Demko continued. Rounding out the family unit are four grandchildren and 12great-grandchildren. Always quite the athlete, Mrs. Rebenack played guard on St. Mary’s girls basketball team, and after high school was a catcher for the Firestone Girls Baseball team. But golf was always her passion. “She always says the highlight was getting to play on the New Course and the Eden Course at St. Andrews Golf Course, Fife, Scotland (where golf was born),” Demko shared. Part of that original golf league were Vera Pedigo, Rosemary Veith, Mary Ann Plonsky, Marjane Nettling and her oldest friend Roseann Wright. Diverse background A true renaissance woman, Mrs. Rebenack learned to drive when she was 16. “Her first car was a 1933 Plymouth sedan, which she and two (identical twin) friends purchased with already over 100,000 miles on it and a top speed of 35 miles per hour,” Demko said. Even so, the trio took it on a three-week trip in 1937to California. “They left Akron with $60 and arrived back home with 35 cents, eating peanut butter crackers the last days of the trip,” Demko continued, labeling her mother as a real “wheeler-dealer” for her travel smarts. “They saved money on hotels by going in as two people. Mom went in with one twin, came out alone and a few minutes later would go in again with the other twin. It worked the entire trip!” While on that trip, the trio got to be extras in a street scene in the movie The Bucaneer, starring Fredric March. If that’s not enough of a window on this woman’s extraordinary spirit, consider the following: “Mom’s first job was stocker/floor sweeper at Roush’s Market on Thornton Street, a couple of blocks from her home on LaCroix Street, receiving a grand salary of 35 cents a day.” She was also a member of two all-girl orchestras – the “Musical Maids” and “The Colleens.” She played the drums, saxophone, piano, organ, accordion, harmonica, guitar, electronic keyboard, and even the bottles. “She met my father John Krieger while playing at a dance at the downtown Akron YWCA,” Demko said. “He offered to carry her drums to her car after the dance.” They married in 1941 and divorced in 1952. “Mom drove for Yellow Cab Co. during the 1940s war years, and her most famous passenger during that stint was Dinah Shore.”

Mrs. Rebenack was a mechanic as well, taught by her Dad, she even did the repairs on her own taxi. She owned and operated Krieger’s Confectionary at the corner of Bowery and Bartges in the early 1950s. And she was a barber; self-taught. “I don’t recall in her 34 years of marriage to (her second husband) John Rebenack him going once to a barber,” Demko said. John Rebenack was director for several years of Akron-Summit County Public Library before his death in 2006. And there’s this. Frances Rebenack has a patent for a suitcase organizer called the Neat Packer; “was paymaster at the original Motor Cargo Inc. and kept that position after it became Consolidated Freightways, from 1945 until 1958. She then was employed at the Akron Public Library as clerk-treasurer until her retirement in 1977,” her daughter said. Also an artist, carpenter She was also an exceptional artist. “She made the skylight in St. Hilary’s worship center and the windows for the chapel doors at Hospice on Ridgewood Road in Copley in honor of her deceased golfing buddy Barbara Van Horn,” Demko said.

Mrs. Rebenack was a skilled carpenter, too. “When I was 16, she decided I’d be safer at home than out with boys, so she built from the ground up a pool table, complete with automatic ball return, in our rec room,” Demko noted. “The boys flocked to our house. And I thought they came to see me. She wisely never told me they didn’t. She also single-handedly remodeled two recreation rooms complete with lighted bars, and built a screened-in back porch onto our Hardesty Boulevard home … Mom offered to build a back porch onto our Copley home in 1981, and was more than offended when we declined to let her, banning her from rooftops at age 66.” Mrs. Rebenack — who has managed to visit all 50 states, Europe and Asia — “delved into French, Chinese and even sign language in order to help deaf library patrons,” her daughter noted. Ruth Pelyhes of Fairlawn — Dianne Demko’s best friend — joked that Mrs. Rebenack is very much a comedian. “Just the other day I was visiting with her, standing in front of the window and she said to me, ‘there’s a halo around you. But I’m not too sure you earned it.’”

Inarguably, Frances Aileen Elizabeth Strabley Krieger Rebenack certainly has earned hers! This really is as good as it gets.

Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or emailed at

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