WILSONVILLE, AL (WBRC) - Fran Phelps turns 95 next week, but you wouldn't know it. She lives on her own, and can even change her own oil. The best way to get in touch with her is by email. She's spry, quick witted, with a sparkle in her eyes that shows she still loves every second of being alive.
"I am blessed. I have been blessed," said Phelps.
She is also a World War II veteran. She signed up for the Navy after the attack at Pearl Harbor. She was a freshman at the University of Montevallo on December 7, 1941.
"I can remember the day so well because I was in my dorm and I heard shouting down on the streets and everyone throwing the windows open and the guys below yelling that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor," said Phelps.
At the time, she was just 18, but she knew then she wanted to sign up for the military, like most of her male classmates had already done. So she quit school and ended up working at an ordinance plant in Tennessee, waiting for her 21st birthday.
"My birthday was December 18th, and then I went right into the Navy," said Phelps. She joined the WAVES which stands for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. The program allowed women to be accepted into the Naval Reserve as commissioned officers and at the enlisted level, effective for the duration of the war, plus six months.
"The WAVES don't get enough credit," she says. Their goal was to take over jobs at home so that a man could go fight. "We were never to see combat or leave the United States," said Phelps.
She served from 1943-1947, but then had to resign her post to become a Navy wife.
"Back then, the regulations were if you got married you had to resign. Then later the rules changed and you could be married, but you had to resign if you became pregnant. Now it's no holds barred, I don't even know what the regulations are," Phelps said with a laugh.
After spending decades moving around and serving as a military spouse, Phelps returned to Alabama and continues to serve her community and her country. This week, she was training for her duties as a poll inspector during for the special election. She is a member of the Silver Haired Legislature, which is a group of formally elected senior citizens that meet in Montgomery to lobby for older adults. She also served on the city council in Wilsonville and two terms as mayor. She says she still uses the skills she learned in the Navy, and still loves learning something new.
"Anything you can put your mind to, you can learn," says Phelps.