Kīhei resident Franny Durham unknowingly serves as an inspiration to those around her through her indomitable spirit, positive attitude and boundless energy.
When asked about her secret to her physical health and spiritual well-being, she replied, “Moderation is the key.”
“When I was very young, my father told me that longevity runs in our family, so I learned to take care of my body at a young age because I wanted to live to be very old,” she laughed.
Genetics may have given her an edge; she is of Okinawan and Japanese descent. She is confident her dad would still be alive if not for a fall that injured his spinal cord when he was in his mid-80s. “Til the day he died, he did pushups and took several walks a day. I know he would have lived at least another 15 years.”
There are no magic ingredients in her recipe for longevity — only common sense. “I try to eat healthy, but I’m not rigid about diet. I believe in moderation. We eat fruits and vegetables, but we also love meat and everything else. But we don’t go overboard! We are not overweight. We stay active. There needs to be balance or you will sink.”
Her husband of almost 30 years is 76, “but looks like he‘s 56,” says Frannie. He kite surfs and rides his Harley for exercise and recreation.
Franny was in her 40s when she began taking hula lessons. Although she no longer belongs to a hālau, she occasionally performs at special events. Sometimes she dances on Mondays at the Coffee Attic in Wailuku. “That helps to keep you in shape and it’s very fun,” she says.
“But it really comes down to my love of paddling,” says Franny about sustaining an active lifestyle. The long-time ocean canoe paddler started the sport later in life — and it changed her life.
When she moved to Maui from O‘ahu in the early ’90s, she was invited to paddle with the Wailea Canoe Club (WCC). She went, and although the paddler who invited her did not show, she coincidentally ran into someone she knew from O‘ahu. The two of them needed a crew, so they struck up a conversation with a couple of young men running along the beach. They were boxers who were cross training. “‘Do you want to try it?’ my friend said. Three of us had never paddled before. So we went out. My friend steered us. I stroked the boat. We went out about a mile and then the wind came up. We had to paddle like hell back to shore! I fell in love with it immediately and have kept going ever since.”
Now at age 70, she paddles six times a week with the WCC and the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society (HOCVS) in Kīhei.
“With HOCVS, I have done long-distance paddling. We’ve paddled around Molokai, Maui and Lāna‘i. I also did a tribal journey from Neah Bay to Lummi in Washington. It’s been great.”
Along with her own paddling regime, she also coaches, teaching others, encouraging improvement and always endeavoring to bring out the best in her students. She says she has met many great people along the way.
“I believe in leading a good life, treating people well and being considerate of others.”
An extension of those long-held beliefs also brought her to caregiving.
“I got into caregiving because I had a landlord at the time whose elderly mother needed help. I also have a son with a bit of a disability. I mentioned to someone that I was interested in learning more about it. She had a friend who taught caregiving at Maui Community College (now the University of Hawai‘i Maui College). “As it turns out, I got the last spot in the last caregiving class that was funded by a grant. Everything was paid for. It was meant to be. It was a blessing. I enjoyed it, then started caregiving after I got certified at graduation.”
That was 13 years ago, and Franny has been a caregiver ever since. The agency that hired Franny sent her out on a variety of caregiving assignments. She retired from the agency at 67, but retained one private client who she still cares for. He is a few years younger than Franny and a quadriplegic.
“He is somewhat independent but still needs a lot of help. And I can’t not help him.”
But, Franny observes, “There is a lack of caregivers. In Hawai‘i, so many elders age in place, so they need someone to come into their home.” But based on her own past experience, a lot of agencies do not pay a living wage. “It’s a sad situation, because when you are a caregiver you are responsible for this person’s well-being — their life. There is so much involved.”
Franny is also seamstress, making and giving away stylish masks for adults, and cartoon-and character-themed masks for keiki and teens during the height of the pandemic “so they would want to wear them.” Of course, she made paddling-themed masks. She was also commissioned by a local doctor who gave the masks to her patients, and also sent them to Germany and the Hopi Reservation. “I felt so good about that.”
“When I moved to Maui, that is when everything really started for me. All of the important things that happened in my life were just meant to be. It all just dropped into my lap. Now I’m busier than I have ever been before I retired.”
But Franny is not just drifting along in life. Recognizing the opportunities presented to you is a skill. Living in alignment with your purpose is an art. She is a paddler of her own boat. An unstoppable force by land and sea, Franny continues to serve as as a courageous caregiver, and an inspiration to her peers and students through her good will, strength and perseverance.