Though only long-time residents may recognize the name, Mayor Toni Iseman declared Friday, April 22, Helen Keeley Day in honor of one of the first women elected to the Laguna Beach City Council who would go on to serve her adopted hometown in many ways.
Keeley, who also turns 100 today, resides in Borrego Springs, according to friend and resident Kathy Dahlquist, who celebrated with her last week.
A builder’s practice of dumping leftover materials on Bluebird Beach prompted Keeley’s entry into politics in 1962, when she was first elected, according to a Festival of Arts biography of 1977. She served through 1966, including a stint as vice mayor, a time when the council purchased the boardwalk buildings to make way for the present Main Beach Park, Dahlquist said.
Moving beyond the city limits and ineligible to run again, Keeley went on to other civic issues. In 1968, she was a member of the Save Salt Creek Committee, which helped secure Salt Creek Beach for public use. Her public service also included 14 years on the Festival of Arts board, 1968-1982, including two years as its president; as a member of the grand jury; and on a county health services committee that helped establish the Laguna Beach Free Clinic, now known as the Community Clinic.
Keeley was often seen walking her Boston terrier, Jamie, around town. She even participated in a dogs-on-the-beach petition drive, said Dahlquist. She moved to Port Townsend, Wash., in 1982, but lived half-time in Laguna for many years.
Born near Stockon, her family moved to El Monte when she was 10 to be near her grandfather, a justice of the peace and farmer. She visited Laguna on an outing and vowed to return to “the prettiest place I’d ever seen.”
Having earned a master’s degree from USC, Keeley taught junior high students in Montebello and traveled with her husband Jim, a petroleum engineer. They bought three lots for $1,500 in Bluebird Canyon and built a weekend home in Laguna, says a 1980 News-Post article. She retired here in 1956.