KATE DAY SAGER
Olean Times Herald
OLEAN - Eighty-seven-year-old Betty Walden Francis' recent hike along the dips and curves of Rock City Park's historic trail could have worn out many younger seniors.
Add her recent visits to Watkins Glen and Letchworth Park, as well as her float down the Allegheny River and viewing of Olean's fireworks, and it could be said Francis has more energy than some middle-aged people.
A resident of Trinity, Texas, Francis stayed in the Olean area this past week while visiting the family of Michael Walsh, a native of Olean. Walsh, also of the Houston area, served as a police officer for 30 years in that community before retirement. He and his wife, Nora, met Francis through their church in Texas about eight months ago.
"She was sitting in a pew that was saved for somebody else," he recalled. "When she got up, my wife invited her to sit with us, and she's been sitting with us ever since."
Walsh said Francis was invited to travel with them to the Olean area the last week of June to visit his mother, Betty Kameck, 80, a former drapery seamstress. Francis flew back to Texas Thursday. "My mom and Betty Francis did (Rock City) trail together," Walsh continued.
He said Francis also walked in Letchworth State Park in Castile and Watkins Glen State Park, floated down the Allegheny River and watched the Bradner Stadium fireworks from Adams Street on Tuesday.
"My mom did Rock City Park and Allegheny River, but she did not do Letchworth State Park or Watkins Glen," Walsh added.
For her part, Francis said she enjoyed Rock City because it was different than any trails she has encountered.
"Michael had me stand where I was on one rock and I put my hands up like I was holding a big rock up. That was kind of fun," she said.
Dale and Cindy Smith, who own the historic ' Rock City Park on Route 16 South in the town of Olean, said there have been a number of older people who have walked the trail. Dale Smith believes Francis, however, is one of the older individuals to complete the trail.
He said the trail is three-quarters of a mile long and winds through gigantic rock formations with steep steps as it circles back to the visitors' center and gift shop.
"It really is a pretty good workout," Dale Smith said of the trail. "If somebody moves right along, it takes about 40, 45 or 50 minutes.
"Over the last few days we've had some people in their 80s go through and walk the entire trail," he remarked. "I always marvel at that - my gosh, when I was a kid, people 80 years old were gone." Francis said at Rock City she was "tired, but I was OK"
"When we went to Watkins Glen, my legs felt very weak ... but I didn't have to go to bed" after returning home, she said.
A former elementary teacher, Francis is twice-widowed and has two children and three grandchildren.
She has visited New York state in the past, but this is her first trip to the Twin Tier area.
"Teaching school was much easier than climbing," she kidded. "I taught 26 years, mostly first grade. I loved my babies."
Francis said her personal exercise regimen includes a one-mile jaunt in the morning and a mile in the evening every day in the Houston area.
"I have a funny dog that's kind of hyper, and I say he needs to walk, but I do, too," she shared. She believes her regular walking routine has helped her overall health, stamina and longevity.
"You couldn't tell it yesterday, because I still needed help," she admitted. "But I'm getting stronger again."