- Associated Press - Sunday, July 23, 2017

CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (AP) - Rodney and Nancy Keller have been vacationing with their family on Chincoteague each summer for 60 years.

The Winchester, Virginia residents have stayed at the Daiseys’ Dove Winds vacation rental cottages and townhouses on Maddox Boulevard for around half of that time, ever since they were built.

“I expect we’ve been here 100 times,” said Rodney Keller, 85. His wife is 87.

The couple will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary in October, meaning they have been coming to Chincoteague nearly all their married life.

This year, the Kellers’ Chincoteague vacation includes 18 family members spanning four generations - the youngest is great-grandson Alex Pacheco, age 3½.

This is Alex’s first trip to Chincoteague, but it likely won’t be his last, if his older relatives’ experiences are an indicator.

Anne, 29, one of the Kellers’ grandchildren, was 8 months old the first time her parents brought her to the island, and her brother, John, was just 6 weeks old on his first visit.

This summer is special - it marks the first time since they were children that all four Keller siblings - Rodney Jr., 62; Bennie, 60; Nan, 59; and John, 53 - have been together on Chincoteague at the same time for summer vacation.

“It’s a real treat to have all four of them in the same room,” said their mother, adding, “I’m so thankful; I’m so lucky.”

John and Carol Keller’s son, John Jr., 16, “has been here every year since he was born,” said his mother.

As time went on, Carol’s brother, Tony Edmonds, and his family joined in on the trips and have been coming to Chincoteague for 13 years now; and Anne’s boyfriend, Daniel Bidwell, became her husband and another member of the Keller family vacation tribe.

The first trip

When the Kellers first came to Chincoteague in the summer of 1953, it wasn’t for a vacation. Rodney Keller at the time was an aircraft mechanic in the U.S. Navy and was stationed at what was then called Naval Aviation Ordnance Test Station Chincoteague.

The couple lived in nearby Temperanceville until he was transferred in fall 1954; their oldest son, Rodney Jr., 62, was born at the Navy base.

The day they moved to the Eastern Shore there was a hurricane, and a tree fell on their car their first night at their new home.

“We didn’t know it (was a hurricane) until we got here. We knew it was raining awful hard,” said Rodney Keller.

Nancy Keller worked for a few months during that time at the former shirt factory on Chincoteague.

Keller got out of the Navy in 1956, and the couple and various members of their growing family have been returning to Chincoteague for summer vacations ever since.

When the four children were growing up, the Kellers often visited a Temperanceville couple with whom the family had become friends when they lived there.

Wesley and Norene Taylor, who were older than the Kellers, had no children of their own, but the Keller kids “were like their children” and loved spending time on the Taylors’ farm, said Nan.

The Kellers were so close to the Taylors that Nan’s middle name is Norene and John’s middle name is Wesley.

“We would come down to the Shore three times a year or so when we had a long weekend from school. . We didn’t always visit Chincoteague, but we would always come to visit them, because they were like family to us,” said Nan.

“Being able to stay on that farm, that was better than any amusement park, with all the animals and the old machinery. We would walk in the woods, pick blueberries,” said Bennie.

60 years of tradition

The elder Kellers have seen quite a few changes since they first visited Chincoteague.

The couple were among the first people to go from Chincoteague to Assateague Island by car after a bridge was constructed linking the two islands.

“It was a wooden bridge, and went clap, clap, clap. I was glad when they built the new one,” said Nancy.

There weren’t big motels on the island when they started vacationing here, either - tourists mainly stayed in guest houses.

Family traditions during Chincoteague vacations include spending lots of time on Assateague beach, which Carol Keller said she loves for its natural state, as compared to some other resort beaches.

Nan likes to bicycle on the refuge and in town, and when younger, the siblings liked to attend the Firemen’s Carnival.

Ice cream is another family tradition.

“We always have to go to Mr. Whippy’s,” said Carol Keller.

Vacation memories include the time Bennie’s daughter, who was 10 at the time, was given a miniature rabbit by one of his parents’ local friends who raised exotic animals.

“We named it Misty,” he said.

Rodney Keller used to go fishing a lot, and they’ve done most of the “touristy” things over the years, like climbing to the top of the Assateague lighthouse and looking at the wild Chincoteague ponies.

“We’ve been to Pony Penning two times,” he said.

Still, mainly it’s just spending time together doing simple things - like eating dinner at one of the local restaurants, going to the beach or watching the sunset down on Main Street - that makes their vacations special year after year.

“We like that some of the same things are still there,” said Nan.

“There’s enough to do, but it’s laid back and quiet,” said Carol.

The elder Kellers also like to visit friends they knew when Rodney was stationed here, and they always take a drive south to Parksley for a shopping trip to Jaxon’s.

Rodney Keller Sr. credits the hospitality of Tommy and Mary Anne Daisey, Dove Winds’ owners, in particular with making them feel at home.

He summed up what it is that keeps them coming back to the island every summer.

“This is our second home. We love it down here.”

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