Wedding dress made from German parachute goes to museum
YORK, Pa. (AP) —
Deany Keith had her hair curled and teased on a recent morning for her media appearances, an “it” girl at 93 years old.
Tucked into a neat little apartment in Country Meadows retirement community, she’s the hottest name in York County at the moment, her story just published in the New York Times.
What is extraordinary about her is the piece of history she had hanging in her closet. What is less extraordinary but just as beautiful is the life that started on the day she wore that silk gown, a wedding dress made from a German parachute.
Deany Powers met young farmer Clint Keith during World War II at a grange square dance.
“You get in a conversation, and he picks you up the next week and the next week and the next week, then he’s stuck with me for 72 years,” she said, smiling.
Those seven decades started on Aug. 23, 1947, in her Corning, New York, neighborhood. It was a simple ceremony with only their families in attendance followed by a buffet dinner. Clint wanted an arch of flowers at the wedding; Deany just wanted to be married to him.
The whole affair was planned by her mother, including the gown.
During and after World War II, fabric was in short supply, but it happened that the family had a massive piece of silk in their possession. Deany’s older brother, Preston Powers, had been a soldier in World War II. From his service, he returned home with three precious items: the Silver Star, a Purple Heart and a German parachute made of silk that would become his little sister’s wedding dress.
Her mother and a local seamstress made the gown.
“It had tiny buttons up the sleeves,” Deany said. “It was beautiful.”
On the door to Deany’s Country Meadows’ apartment is a nameplate: Clint and Deany Keith.
They married when she was 19 and he was 20. In their first years together, they traveled the country.
Clint, the son of a farmer, went in the Navy then became an engineer at IBM, settling with his wife back in New York.
Fifteen years after they married, Deany and Clint, unable to have their own children, adopted twin boys, Jerry and Terry; daughter Paula was adopted a few years later. The children had found a home with two people aching for a family.
Clint built a house for the family, every bit of it, according to Deany, and those four members of his family were the most important part of it. On the roof one day working, Clint climbed down the ladder because one of the twins just wanted a balloon to be blown up.
“They wrestled together; they went sledding together,” Deany said. Clint even renovated a 1928 boat that the family would ride on the Hudson River, staying on it for two or three nights at a time.
“It was a beautiful life that we had,” she said. “Really and truly.”
Deany lived with a bone disease that had put her in hospitals as a young girl, but she never told her children. They didn’t know she had to wear a brace support for her back in order to pick them up and carry them.
When Clint retired and the children graduated from school, they moved to Colorado, a high-altitude location to give Deany a break from her severe allergies.
Clint became a hang gliding instructor there, and she was the hang driver, never able to glide because of her back but willing to drive down mountainsides to pick up the hang gliders at the end of their journey.
As the Keiths reached their 90s, they moved to Pennsylvania. Jerry lives just five minutes from Country Meadows, and Terry lives in the northern tier of the state. Paula remains in Colorado.
In 2019, Clint had been suffering with memory and health problems when he became very ill. On Dec. 23, after a few days of unconsciousness, a nurse slipped a pillow behind him, and he opened his eyes and smiled at his bride.
“That’s the last picture I have of him, and it’s beautiful because he knew me,” she said.
A silk donation
Years ago, Deany pulled her wedding dress out of the closet. She thought it should go in the trash after languishing so long. Not even a dry cleaner would take it, for fear it would crumble.
Her friend from Colorado, Phara Bourque, suggested she donate it to a museum and reminded her frequently to do it.
So, last year, Deany wrote a letter, and in October, she received a response. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans wanted to put it on display.
It was her first year without her husband, a year of pandemic and shutdowns, but the dress had given her hope.
“It got her through the last year,” Bourque said. “It gave her purpose.”