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A brief family history

October 18, 2008
By Howard Riley,

On any given Saturday when this column appears, the content can immediately create another column, for better or for worse, and in most instances for better, as you will read here today.

Eugene Keet was mentioned here last week in the history of the Adirondack Regional Airport. When I saw Lee and Nancy Keet at the Hall of Fame dinner in Lake Placid last Friday night I mentioned Eugene and asked about the Keet family.

Every history of Saranac Lake mentions the Moodys and the Millers as the first settlers here but there are many other families who settled here, in the 1800's. I remember hearing about Dr. Keet, Lee's father, when I was a kid, but I had no idea about the long history of that family in Saranac Lake.

Article Photos

Frank Kawatch, Gene Keet and Christy Mathewson Jr.
(Photograph #85.404 courtesy of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library)

So, here is the story I got from Lee Keet:

"The airport was started in a field at its current location, cleared by enthusiasts, including my great uncle (Eugene Little Keet) and his friend Christy Matthewson, Jr.

"Gene was a pilot who flew the mail (and a passenger - $10 plus clean up your mess) to Saratoga Springs. He was born April 1905 in Saranac Lake and died in 1961, in Elmira. Gene was the product of a second marriage between my great-grandfather, Eugene Wait Keet (who was one of this village's incorporators, a guide, harness maker, town assessor, and justice of the peace) and Mary Little.

"The older Gene was born on July 06, 1856 in Schuyler Falls and died here in 1928. His first wife, my great-grandmother, was Ida Ellsworth (daughter of Henry Ellsworth and Clarenda Bigelow Henry was a farmer who died as a $75 substitute in the Civil War). Ida and two of her three children all died within a year of each other in 1889, presumably of influenza. The first Gene moved with his son, my grandfather, to Saranac Lake shortly thereafter. He owned the Keet Building at 47-49 Broadway where he held court, made bicycles, fixed harnesses and told tall tales. He once had to fine himself for poaching, there being no other local justice.

"Young Gene was terribly injured in an auto wreck along Cascade Lake and spent years in the hospital. Although the first generation of brothers to go to Cornell (he and my grandfather my brother and I are the third such generation) and a really bright engineer, he never worked again and spent the rest of his life taking care of his mother and playing golf with Hyke Tyrell, Ed Guggenheim and a long list of similar cronies for whom I used to caddie. He was a fabulous story teller and despite his right-side, accident-induced paralysis, he played golf with an eight handicap.

"His mother, Mary, had been a school teacher and there are still some who remember her with great fear as the wicked witch of the east. She drove my great grandfather's firstborn (my grandfather) away from home, and after medical school he moved to Queens to return only for holidays to see his half-siblings. My grandfather married his nurse and stayed there to raise my dad and his three siblings. My dad also became an MD, moving back to Saranac Lake at age 57 to practice the kind of country medicine he also desired (as Frank Trudeau's first partner). When I made this my official home (after 35 years as a summer resident) I became the eighth generation of Keets to live and work in the Adirondacks. The first was Jonathan Keet who moved from Missisquoi County to Schuyler Falls where my great-grandfather's grandfather, William, was born in 1808. Jonathan returned to Missisquoi and died there, but William and his offspring remained, creating a large Keet community in Schuyler Falls before that fateful migration to Saranac Lake about 1891."

So after very much enjoying that story I realized that the part of the story that was missing was about the story-teller so I went back and got this from Lee Keet:

"After receiving an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell I joined IBM, never to practice my engineering craft. I had married my high-school sweetheart during my senior year, and after college we moved to Tarrytown to be near my White Plains IBM office where I started as a systems (i.e., software) engineer. IBM sponsored my second Masters degree, in Operations Research, another discipline learned but never practiced. However, I learned all about software from IBM and in 1967 started my own early software products company, Turnkey Systems, based in Norwalk, Connecticut. In 1979 I sold the company to Dun & Bradstreet and was induced to stay for four years running their Software Products Group.

"In 1984 I started my existing hi-tech investment fund, Vanguard Atlantic Ltd. which gave me the freedom to live anywhere, and over the next 20 years we lived in France for five years and then in California shepherding investments, but always spent long summers in the Adirondacks (after my dad's untimely death at age 61 I had purchased the house we currently live in from his estate). In 1999 we expanded the old summer house and converted it to year-round, formally became full-time voting citizens, and I re-incorporated Vanguard Atlantic in New York and based it here in Saranac Lake. We still travel, as I still have investments in many locales, but a majority of the year I am a "local" and possibly, based on lineage a "returning native". Nancy and I have three kids, each with kids of their own, all of whom think of the Adirondacks, and particularly Lake Colby, as their spiritual home."

There was a provision in the Civil War draft act that allowed a draftee to pay someone to take his place.

Too good to miss

Dave Riotto, an old friend, Enterprise alum, owner and publisher of a daily newspaper, and Navy veteran, responded to another column a few weeks ago when I referred to Jeanne DeMattos as Gene.

Here are excerpts:

"When things got really bad and we produced a paper with so many miscues it got ridiculous, I'd run this piece in order to make peace ..."

Owed Two a Spell Chequer

Eye halve a spelling chequer

It came with my pea sea

It plainly marques four my revue

Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word

And weight four it two say

Weather eye am wrong oar write

It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid

It nose bee fore two long

And eye can put the error rite

Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it

I am shore your pleased two no

Its letter perfect awl the weigh

My chequer tolled me sew.

Dave signs off with "for all of us who have made only one error in life."



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