Helen Frain never forgot her roots.
She started out working the cotton fields in the Midwest as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal programs, from serving up lunch to students at Manteca High for 20 years while simultaneously feeding children of the migrant field workers at Lathrop and French Camp.
“She liked being able to feed the kids year around,” said Sylvia Silveira, who is Frain’s youngest daughter.
She listed hard work, no smoking, and a strong religious faith as the key to her mother’s longevity.
On July 29, Helen Frain will turn 100.
A big celebration was initially planned for July 25 at the Burbank-area home she shares with her daughter but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, Silveira indicated Thursday that the family has opted for a small gathering consisting of a few of Frain’s out-of-state grandchildren.
Her family these days is by no means small.
Helen (Kinart) Frain was born in 1920 in Missouri Valley, a small Iowa town that borders Nebraska. She was the youngest of nine children.
Silveira likens her mother’s upbringing similar to that of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’
During those tough times, Helen Frain and her family worked the fields for the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Her parents were aware that education would be the key to a better life and enrolled her in the local schools.
She attended nearby Blair High School in Nebraska, and was a graduate of the Class of 1938.
She also married her high school sweetheart George Frain, who was a machinist and, according to Silveira, played an instrumental role in making possible the Highway 120 Bypass in Manteca.
Before that, they lived in Burbank in 1951, going from there to the Bay Area to the Central Valley. That’s when George Frain first came to work Spreckles Sugar Plant in 1962.
Helen, who had food service experience, got her job at Manteca High sight unseen — she worked in the school cafeteria from 1962 to 1982.
“No interview — I handed them an envelope and they didn’t even open it,” she recalled.
Helen and George Frain, who passed away in 1984, raised their four daughter — Cleo, Donna, Karen and Sylvia — in Manteca. They were also involved in the First Christian Church, where George served as deacon, treasurer and trustee.
Helen Frain moved to her sister’s house in Texas and briefly lived in Utah and Arizona before returning to California.
“She did it for her health — her doctor was in Burbank,” Silveira said.
Over the years, Helen Frain’s family has grown exponentially.
She now has 11 grandchildren, 24 grandchildren, and 20 great-great children spread out from North Carolina, Texas, Oregon, Nevada and California.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Helen Frain enjoyed going to the casinos and playing the slot. She would wear her favorite color, red, for luck, said Silveira.