Another family secret

When asked about the Keefer house, Assemblyman Rick Keene discovers he has local lineage he knew nothing about


When I started doing research for this story, one of the people I talked to was Assemblyman Rick Keene. I’d never met or spoken with him before. I wanted to mention his relation to my Keene family, but I was unsure exactly what the relationship was, so I asked my cousin Patricia “Patty” Walters of Durham (C.W. Keene’s granddaughter). She said, “He’s related to us, all right. I’m not sure exactly how, but he is.”

I’d heard this before, when my father died in Mexico. My sister Janis and I were having trouble getting his remains brought back to the United States, so my aunt Lauren Blackstock said, “Call Rick Keene. He’s a cousin of ours. He could help.” But I was living in New York City at the time, and that call seemed like a long shot, so I never made it.

I had always assumed that Rick didn’t socialize with the rest of us Keene descendants for political reasons. My dad, Bob Brannen, was a hippie-liberal with a habit of getting into political arguments. In addition, my family had drifted apart in the last quarter-century. I hadn’t seen Patty, her brother John Miskella, or their mother, Nadine “Babe” Clifford (Grandma Clarine’s sister), for 25 years until recently. Needless to say, it never seemed very odd that I hadn’t met Rick.

So when I called Rick about my story on the Keefer Road estate, what I found out surprised me. He said he didn’t know anything about his relation to C.W., or any other Keene for that matter.

Rick explained that his father abandoned him and his mother when he was only 3, and until now he had never known the Keenes at all. He knew that his father was from Lebanon, Ore., which is near Salem, and he met his grandfather there once. I dug out some old documents and discovered that C.W. was born in Salem. We compared ages of family members and figured out that C.W. must have been his grandfather’s brother.

Rick has never before seen pictures of his Keene relatives, so I was excited to tell him I had a photo of C.W. to show him.

“You’ll know right away that you’re related to him,” I told him, “The nose is the same, only C.W.'s is bigger.”

He was thrilled. “I don’t look anything like my mother,” he said, “so I’ve always wondered what my father looked like. And my sons resemble me a lot.”

Rick majored in music at Chico State and has always wondered where his musical ability came from—"I play guitar and majored in voice.” I told him that his cousin John Miskella plays guitar and writes songs, too. They’ll meet each other soon.

At the time of this writing, Rick hasn’t met any of his newly discovered (and politically diverse) Chico family. Nor has he seen the house that C.W. built. But he is grateful to have found that his family’s roots in Chico extend beyond his generation. We can thank the house for indirectly revealing this well-kept secret.