Tea and memories with centenarian Bea Keyan Moore

Bea Keyan Moore. (photo by Carrie Jones Ross)

Edda Beatrice Keyan Moore’s day is not unlike that of many other retirees, with laundry and lunch dates and church on Sundays. Only “Bea,” as she’s generally known, is about 30 years older than her fellow retirees.

Bea is a vibrant, polished and articulate woman who could fool anyone into believing she is in her late 60s. Her energy is invigorating and her collected smile is inspiring, though she says some days, she does not take the walk down her steep driveway to get her mail.

She bedecks her table with linens, china, pies and a plate of freshly baked cookies to accompany a hot pot of tea when guests arrive. She lives alone but friends and fellow parishioners drop in regularly. Bea attends church at Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Episcopal Church in Kingston each Sunday, never skipping a beat.

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Bea was born Jan. 14, 1916. No, that’s not a typo. She’s 101, however she says she feels entitled to round it up to 102. (The Kingston Times editorial position is in agreement).

Bea was born to the Guillian family in Jersey City, N.J., on the acclaimed Palisades Avenue. Bea’s father, an Armenian immigrant, had a linoleum and carpeting store; her mother was from Russia. Old World traditional values meant her mother did not work. Once the Guillian family moved to Esopus, cultural assimilation happened through fully engaged involvement in a church community, which for the family was Ascension Episcopal Church (now Ascension Holy Trinity) in West Park.

Bea’s family built a home on Popletown Road, which at the time was little more than a horse and carriage path along the Shaupeneak Ridge. As a matter of fact, explained Bea, the horse and carriage was the most common transportation when she was little, with just a few cars dotting the roads.

Bea’s Old World and overprotective father walked her and her older brother, Reupen, to the Union Center one-room schoolhouse down the street every morning. The school was comprised of 28 kids that filled the ranks of grades one through 12. Bea said there was only one teacher, Ms. Kenny, whom, she recalled, lived in Port Ewen and took the train to and from Ulster Park every day. “Ms. Kenny went early every morning to fill the pot belly stove with coal and wood to get it warm for when us brats arrived,” Bea recalled. She said the school day was 8 a.m.-3 p.m., like a regular school day. Bea was able to graduate high school early at age 13.

Bea’s father was extremely conservative and protective, and forbade Bea from work or college. Life was knitting, ice skating, studying music and tennis. After school, Bea did chores around the house with her mother. The Guillians were extremely involved in the church, through which all social activities flowed. “In my youth, church was a very important part of life,” said Bea. “Today, it doesn’t seem to be. Church was beautiful, it was for youth, teenagers, above teenagers and adults.” Bea’s father started the church’s “Fireside Fellowship” for youth, and even, quite progressively for the time, accepted kids from other Christian denominations. “Church” was responsible for community dinners, dances, theater, picnics, barbeques, sports and more, she said.

Bea’s mother had an “open door” policy, and took in wounded World War I soldiers. “She never locked the door, ever,” said Bea. Nearby the family home was a Civil War veterans’ home called Augusta Cole, which is now a rental house.

There was no electricity on the mountain where they lived, but Bea’s upper middle class family house was one of the first to have a “Delco System” — a small internal combustion generator with battery which delivered light and mechanical power in rural areas, largely farmers for their barns, who were not yet hooked up to the grid. As the presence of cars began to replace horse and carriages — even in her own house when her father bought a Maxwell — her father fought with Central Hudson to get poles on the mountain, which he eventually bankrolled himself. Though the schoolhouse had an outhouse for bathroom use, Bea was fortunate enough to grow up with early indoor plumbing. Her neighbors, she said, all used gas lighting. The family shared a three-party phone line.

 

Carried by ferries

Bea’s family visited Kingston several times a week to shop. In order to go to Rondout, she said, they took a ferry across the Esopus Creek. To visit church in Hyde Park, the family took a boat across the river at a dock near Ascension Church property.

Bea went to school with Hymie Reher, and recalled buying bread and rolls from his family’s bakery. Ice harvested on the river was delivered to the family’s house, as were eggs and milk, as well as baked goods and the family’s meat order from an Esopus butcher.

Bea recalled shopping regularly at Gatella’s produce store on Wall Street. Many of the families who settled in the area were Jewish, such as the Rehers, and also Italian and French, which she referred to as “Waldensians.”

The area family physician, Dr. George Ross, made house calls. “He was so devoted that he would walk up the steep hill in deep snow,” said Bea. “People took care of each other when there was trouble. You would run to it.”

By age 18, Bea married her first husband, Gregory Keyan, a hooked rug dealer who she met at a party in New York City. They built a house next to her parents’ land in 1940.  The couple never had kids. Keyan died in a car accident on their street at age 31. Her second husband was an Episcopal priest named John Fredrick Moore, whom she’d met in her teens and reconnected with after they both lost their spouses. Moore left his parish in Florida to marry Bea and live in Esopus. They never had children. Both marriages were at Ascension Church.

Bea said the area landscape began to change dramatically when IBM came to town. Soon, Bea said, stores and restaurants began to crop up and bloom. Suddenly “radios with big horns” were just the beginning of a technology boom.

 

Friend of Bill W.

Bea knew people, in her time. She met Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson in Vermont one summer. “He said to me, ‘If you knew who I was, you wouldn’t want to sit next to me,’” she said. “He was a very charming man.” The two stayed in touch for the rest of his life, and she even has visited his grave, which, she said, was often covered in mourners’ sobriety chips.

Bill Wilson is not the only noteworthy person Bea knew. She worked with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, to open St. James Church’s acclaimed flower show every year, and after she passed, she then worked with Eleanor Roosevelt.  “Roosevelt was my favorite president,” she said. “I liked him because I saw him a lot. He helped a lot of poor people.” Worst president, in Bea’s discriminating opinion? “Donald Trump, without a doubt. So crude, and oh, how he talks about women. So vulgar. Disgusting.”

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The 1930s and ’40s were Bea’s favorite decades. “Life was full of action,” she said, “but there was a lot of death.” Bea went on to talk about the polio outbreaks; she contracted the disease which left her arm permanently damaged. Bea squarely blames her own polio shot for her case, and says she has never since gotten a vaccination.

Everyone else in Bea’s family passed in their early 60s, Bea said, adding that all of the friends from her youth are gone as well. Over tea, she shared photos of John Burroughs’ son Julian.

The Rev. Jennifer Barrows, the vicar of Bea’s beloved Ascension Holy Trinity Church, described Bea as AHT’s “reigning matriarch.”

“Bea knows more than I could pack into a lifetime and welcomed me, this newly minted priest in her first position, as if I were an old hand at it, guiding me through histories and pitfalls without ever seeming to,” said Barrows. “A visit to Bea is like a step back in time and high tea appears as out of thin air and conversation blossoms. I leave feeling I had been visited, rather than the other way around.”

Upon Moore’s 100th birthday, the Rev. Frank Alagna of Holy Cross/Santa Cruz, delivered a homily in her honor. “While Bea grew up in a racist society, she never incorporated its discriminatory agenda,” said Alagna. “While she grew up in a homophobic world, she never embraced the exclusion of persons of same-gender affection. While she grew up in a somewhat privileged world, she never internalized its sense of entitlement. Bea’s embrace of change also expresses itself in her enthusiastic support of our efforts here at Holy Cross/Santa Cruz to become evermore fully one body in Christ even as we face the challenges that come from being a multicultural and bilingual parish.”

Bea was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, but she’s chosen not to undergo treatment or surgery.