By Ann Cipperly
Although Freita Fuller-Keluche moved from Opelika 35 years ago, she said still thinks of Opelika as home, and returns often to visit her mother, Betty Fuller and friends. Freita is the first and only one to win the title Miss Alabama while living in Opelika and won with a talent in dance after a miracle healing. Since then, she has led an interesting life, serving as honorary chairman of many celebrity events and finding joy in helping others, especially Native Americans.
“What has value to me, and who I am today is due to Opelika,” Freita said.
Her father, the late Hugh Dean Fuller, owned a car dealership in Dadeville before moving to Opelika to open Fuller Ford.
While attending Opelika High School, Freita was a Gayfer Girl and began modeling for Bobbie Brooks. “That gave me the foundation to start participating in pageants,” she said.
The first pageant she entered and won was Junior Miss when she was a senior at OHS. At the state pageant, she was named first runner up. She met Miss Alabama pageant directors who encouraged her to enter that pageant.
Two years later, in 1972, while Freita was a sophomore at Auburn University, she won the Miss Alabama pageant.
“I shall never forget coming home to Opelika after winning the Miss Alabama title. I remember topping the hill on McLure Avenue and seeing a large number of people in my front yard. They put up a sign that said ‘Welcome Home Miss Alabama,’” Freita said.
Carolyn and Clyde Zeanah lived across the street and had a big banner that said, “Miss Alabama lives across the street.”
“I get goose bumps thinking about all the people in Opelika and Lee County who supported me,” Freita said.
Freita danced for her talent part in the pageant. She feels it was a miracle since she had polio when she was a young child.
She studied with Lynn Curtis at his local dance studio. When she was 11 years old, he invited her to be a part of his ballet company. “As long as I was in ballet shoes I was fine. When I started training to go en pointe, he discovered I had a weakness and lack of balance on my right side,” Freita said.
He called her mother in after a practice and told her that she needed to get this checked out.
Her mother, who was a nurse, took Freita to a specialist at UAB hospital in Birmingham. “He walked in and took one look at me and then asked when did I have polio,” Frieta recalled.
Freita looked at her mother, who said, “I knew it.” She went on to explain that not long after Freita had been vaccinated for polio, she started showing symptoms of the disease. Her mother was working for a doctor who told her, “it just could not be.”
The doctor at UAB said he would need to operate immediately. “It was such a shock to find this out at 11 years of age. I didn’t know what to expect.”
They returned home to pack and entered the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. Many different tests were conducted and surgery was scheduled. Since she had been dancing and stayed active her muscles had over-compensated, which kept her out of a wheelchair.
Freita became emotional seeing the condition of other children at the hospital and what they were going through.
A few days before surgery, her doctor told her he had decided not to operate. “He told me I would have to stay active my entire life,” remembers Freita.
Seven years later, when she was crowned Miss Alabama, she learned why her doctor made the decision not to operate.
He told her that on the morning of the scheduled surgery he was standing in front of the mirror shaving when he heard a male voice say, “You cannot operate on her.”
“He told me,” says Freita, “the voice was so clear and he heard it again. He said that had never happened before or after.
“When I was crowned Miss Alabama,” she says, “the doctor saw my photo on the front page of the paper with talent in dancing. He called to tell me that I had to know what happened.”
As Miss Alabama, Freita entered the Miss America pageant. “Many friends attended the pageant in Atlantic City. I was very proud to represent Opelika and Alabama in the pageant,” Frieta said. “Professionals were allowed to compete that year. Miss Wisconsin won and went on to become co-hostess on the 700 Club television show.”
Mallory Hagan of Opelika was in the Miss America pageant later, but she entered as Miss New York.
Freita returned home and graduated from Auburn University. She married Tim Christian, an Auburn coach, and opened Freita’s Finishing School. A couple of her students signed contracts for modeling in New York.
After getting a divorce, Freita worked for a public relations company in Atlanta where she met her husband, Gene Keluche, a resort developer, who was living in Scottsdale, Ariz.
While living in Scottsdale, Freita was approached about becoming the executive director for the Bert Convy Celebrity Sports Weekend, the largest celebrity event in the country benefiting spina bifida.
“Every year we would bring in 30 or 40 celebrities to play golf and tennis,” says Freita. “It was very successful. Through that we were able to build the first home for spina bifida sufferers where they could learn how they could be on their own,” Freita said.
To escape the heat in Scottsdale they spent summers in Colorado Springs where her husband had another resort. Once their sons were born, they decided to raise them in Colorado Springs instead of Scottsdale.
Last year, they moved to Denver where most of their businesses are now.
Freita’s husband is a Native American. His mother was a full-blooded member of the Wintun tribe of northern California. “There are no full bloods left today,” says Freita. “My mother-in-law was the youngest of 11 children. Her father, Charlie Klotchy, was the leader of the Wintun people.”
After hearing the horrible stories of the events that her mother-in-law endured along with other Native Americans, Freita spent many years studying their history. She has a PhD in Cultural Mythology with an emphasis in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute.
“I was raised in Alabama and married an Indian and found a way of integrating the two,” Freita said.
She has attended many conferences to reach out to help Native Americans find healing from the past. Freita and Gene founded the non-profit Native American Sports Council.
The Keluches have two sons, Cameron and Colton, both in their 20s, who live in Denver.
“I have had a very blessed, fortunate life. My family and friends in Opelika and Trinity United Methodist Church have been a part of that. They have deeply touched my life,” Freita said.