Living fulfilled at 100

Published 7:52 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Mitch Rabil, who today is 100 years old, holds up a photograph taken of him when his son and daughter were children. They will be joining him for a celebration of his life this Saturday. — Stephen H. Cowles Tidewater News

Mitch Rabil celebrates century mark starting today


Mitch Rabil of Franklin cannot list just one specific moment in his life that was the highlight.

How could he? Today, May 22, he is 100 years old. Naturally, there have been a multitude of those moments of happiness.

“I’ve had so many,” said Rabil. “There have been good times — most of the time — but some bad times, too [such as the flood of ’99]. There were rough days during the Depression, but we got through it all right.”

He was speaking about his life early Monday afternoon in a place he knows as well as anyone in the city: Fred’s Restaurant. Several feet away from the booth where he was finishing lunch was the side of the building that once belonged to Rabil when he managed a pool hall decades ago. When Rabil decided to leave that business, he turned over his side to his renowned late brother, Fred, who expanded the place.

A native of Weldon, North Carolina, his other siblings include Ernie, Helen, Joe (deceased), Leon, Lucille (deceased), Marguerite and William. They are the children of Frank and Mary Rabil Sr., who had come from Lebanon.

“I came to Franklin in 1940 when I was 21. That’s how old you had to be to serve beer, which I did at my two uncles’ business across the street [from here.]”

Two years later, Rabil did his patriotic duty during World War II. At Fort Bragg in North Carolina, he got his assignment. “I was lucky enough to get the Air Force.”

Following training that continued in Biloxi, Mississippi, the young serviceman was sent to March Air Force Base near Riverside, California.

“I enjoyed that state,” he recalled. “There were baseball games and each branch got to play each other.”

In the Pacific, part of his service time was in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, which are north of Guam.

Rabil said, though, he came back to Hawaii when the war was over.

“Everybody was happy. Everybody was happy,” he said about that ending.

Back in Franklin is when he opened the pool hall, which was then separate from the other side that was Fred’s. Later, “I wanted to give it up, so I gave it to him.”

One of his sisters who had married and moved to Goldsboro, North Carolina. Through weekend visits to see them, Rabil met the woman who would eventually become his wife, Helen Kannon.

“We talked every time I visited. We got acquainted and fell in love,” he said, adding they married in the city in 1952 when he was 32 and she at 28. “She really enjoyed talking to all. She just loved people and was very well liked by everybody. A very, very congenial person.”

Their son, Mitch Jr., was born in 1953, and two years later, daughter Mary Kay Rabil Copley entered their lives. The family had a little place on Walnut Street before building their home on Clay Street, where he’s been since 1957.

Rabil decided on owning and operating the Dairy Queen that was located on South Street. He’d go on to own four more DQ’s, and later sold them.

Following retirement, the Rabils traveled extensively to such American places as Las Vegas, San Francisco and Hawaii, as well as other countries such as Italy and Germany.

“MK” as his daughter is usually known, said of her folks, “They were wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. Mom was a fun-loving person. The life of the party. Dad was the total opposite — laid-back. My dad is a very good listener. A good mentor.”

She confirmed there were many family trips such as to the beach. When she was 21, MK went with her parents to Vegas and she got to play craps. “The whole trip was a lot of fun.”

About the time MK was expecting her first child, Helen had become seriously ill, but she knew the good news and “was so excited.” She died 30 years ago.

Very close to the delivery date, MK’s husband had to be at a conference, and Rabil was asked to stay with her. “Not gone one day and here comes the baby. Dad had to drive me to the hospital … “He became ‘Mom’ for me. He’s always been there for me. He’s certainly lived a full life.”

Rabil doesn’t seem too surprised he’s lived so long. Though his father died young at 60 because of pneumonia, his mother lived to be 85; Fred was also in his upper 90s, and another sister is in that decade as well.

For himself, Rabil attributes one “secret” to his longevity: “I don’t take prescription drugs. I have a little trouble walking, but all my vital signs are good.”

He concluded, “I consider myself very lucky to get through this life and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.”