Diamonds in the Rough: Fran Davis maps out travels for The Club

By Chelsea Retherford | Living 50 Plus

Fran Davis said she can’t retire because she’s having too much fun.

She accepted a position with the Florence Parks and Recreation Department as activities director for the senior center 14 years ago. The job, she said, has offered her so many opportunities to travel, learn new skills, pick up exciting hobbies, and meet new friends, it hardly feels like work to her.

“I just totally came out of retirement to take this job, and now I don’t know how to retire,” Davis said with a laugh. “People motivate me. That’s why I’m here. I love them, and I think they love me in return.”

When Davis stepped into the position, members of the senior center still met in their former facility on Fairground Road. Eventually, seniors attending weekly activities at the center outgrew that building and landed in a former country club building just past the Florence Sportsplex on Highway 20.

That’s how The Club was born, Davis said.

“So, when we came to The Club, I solicited a lot of ideas for us to do,” she said. “We play games, we have an exercise class, we have a lunch for $1, we square dance, we line dance, we social dance. We have Friday afternoon parties and things like that, and then we travel.”

Traveling across the U.S. and even internationally, has been one of the most rewarding experiences for Davis in her current job, and she believes the same is true for many of the guests and The Club members who go on these trips with her.

“My love for travel started as a kid, and I was part of a military family when I married,” Davis said, adding that she’d also made a career out of recreation before she accepted the position through the City of Florence.

To most who’ve come to know Davis, she is known as “Fran Fish.” That’s partly because of her various jobs she’s held as a swimming instructor for the past 57 years, including her position as the first aquatics director for the YMCA of the Shoals.

Davis, who was born and raised in Trussville, just north of Birmingham, met her late ex-husband, Jim Davis, after he’d enlisted in the Navy Seals. His service allowed her to travel the globe throughout their marriage.

“I’ve worked at several different recreation centers around,” she said. “I’ve worked in Europe; I’ve worked in northern Virginia and at Virginia Beach, North Carolina — kind of all over the East Coast. Everywhere we traveled, I taught.”

She said she and her husband came back to the Shoals before their divorce so she could be close to siblings who live in the area. Though Florence has been home for the past 30 years, Davis never quite kicked her wanderlust.

“I just love to travel. I thought if I could travel and get some other people going with me, that would be so much fun,” she said.

As Davis continued to book trips with the Diamond Tours booking and bus tour company, those who traveled with the group regularly began calling themselves the Diamonds in the Rough.

Davis said the tours are open to the public, and people of all ages are welcome to join if they pay trip fees on time, but typically the trips consist of the same group of travelers.

“There are a handful of about 20 people who go almost every time,” she said. “Typically, we have about 30 total. Sometimes there are about 10 to 15 people I don’t know, but we eat together, we sit next to each other and by the time we get to our destinations, we’re a pretty close-knit group. If they really enjoy the trip — and most of them do — they’ll turn around and sign up for another trip. Before we know it, we’ve got several travelers that go several times.”

With so many regulars, Davis said she sends out brochures to those who have travelled with the group regularly and gets their input on which trips to book for the year.

Davis said some of her personal favorite travel experiences include Niagara Falls, Alaska, and Mackinac Island, Michigan.

“I really enjoyed San Antonio, the River Walk, and just being out in that part of the country,” she added. “I had been there before, but going on one of our trips made it a little bit more pleasurable.”

Davis said the Diamonds in the Rough members nearly always vote on a trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, each year. Once the group settles on a destination, Davis said the touring company establishes an itinerary.

“The cram in the things we do,” Davis said. “I’ll just tell you, the first time we went to Pigeon Forge, we saw 13 shows in seven days. Last time, we saw seven, and this year, we’re going to get to see the Christmas shows.”