Montana State University

Barney Myers, 103, walks into MSU's history books 80 years after his graduation

May 6, 2014 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

MSU President Waded Cruzado told the audience at MSU’s spring commencement on May3 that they had just witnessed a “great day in the history of our university” when Myers walked across the stage and accepted a certificate honoring the 80th anniversary of his university graduation. Myers was greeted by a standing ovation from the audience. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.Bernard âBarneyâ Myers ran track for what was once Montana State College, as shown in the 1934 MSC yearbook.Barney Myers, a retired math teacher and track coach, said one of the things that has surprised him about his long life has been the success of his former students from Ingomar, Plentywood and Eureka, as well as Billings Senior. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

MSU President Waded Cruzado told the audience at MSU’s spring commencement on May3 that they had just witnessed a “great day in the history of our university” when Myers walked across the stage and accepted a certificate honoring the 80th anniversary of his university graduation. Myers was greeted by a standing ovation from the audience. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Former Bobcat track athlete, Bernard “Barney” Myers, 103, who ran long distances when he attended what was Montana State College more than 80 years ago, walked into Montana State University's history books May 3 when he became the first Montana State graduate to celebrate the 80th anniversary of his graduation.

A member of the class of 1934, the retired math teacher at Billings Senior High School walked across the stage on his own power to accept a certificate from MSU President Waded Cruzado. Cruzado told the audience that gave Myers a standing ovation that they had just witnessed “a great day in the history of our university.”

Myers came to the ceremonies accompanied by one of his three daughters, Joyce Fletcher of Billings, an MSC graduate of the class of 1961.

Kerry Hanson, director of alumni relations for the MSU Alumni Foundation, said while the university routinely invites its golden (50th), silver (60th) and sapphire (70th) anniversary graduates back for spring commencement and class reunions, it has never before had an 80th anniversary graduate return.

“He truly is an amazing man,” Hanson said.

Myers, an engaged man who still rides the Billings city bus to work out at the Y “at least” three mornings a week, faithfully watches the news and plays computer games to stay sharp,  was nonplussed at “all the fuss.” But, he said he was honored to return to the university that “was a good university when I attended, but is even better now.”

Perhaps the accomplishment is even more significant considering that Myers might have graduated a couple of years earlier. His schooling took place during the Great Depression and it took Myers seven years to fund his first degree in general studies, returning for an additional degree in education.

Myers, a native of the farmlands of western South Dakota, said he graduated from Wibaux High School in 1927. When he graduated from high school, he didn’t intend to go to college, he recalls.

“I didn’t have the money and people didn’t all go to college then. It was said only teachers and preachers had to attend college.”

However, Myers wanted to attend the Air Force flight training and fly airplanes, which required a two-year college degree in engineering. So, he chose Montana State College.

Two years later when he took his degree to the recruiting depot, the doctor giving him his physical flunked him for poor eyesight.

Myers said he had no idea what the doctor was talking about until he put on his first pair of eyeglasses, and the world became clear for the first time.

By then the stock market had fallen, so Myers found work with an itinerant harvest crew, traveling from Texas to Canada. He returned to MSC a few years later. He credits Mildred Leigh, then staff director of Hamilton Hall, the women’s freshman dormitory and the only dormitory on campus, with keeping him in school when she gave him a job as a house boy. There he met “Miss Leigh’s secretary,” Margaret “Bess” Griffiths, a secretarial sciences student from Rexford, near Eureka. The two married in 1935.

While at MSC, Myers ran long distance in track. He was featured in the infamous “prank” yearbook of 1933, produced by David Rivenes and Chris Schlechten. He was photographed in his track uniform smoking a pipe, trailing a roll of toilet paper and carrying a lunchbox while running.

“The caption said ‘Barney was prepared,’”  Myers said. He said the subjects had no suspicions they were participating in an unusual yearbook because Rivenes told them that the joke photos were just a few novelty photos meant to get them to relax. The thought of the yearbook still makes Myers chuckle.

Myers’ first job teaching was in Ingomar, then Plentywood and then Eureka before he found his way to Billings in 1944 – first at Lincoln and then at Billings Senior. He started the school’s cross country program there and he is still fondly recalled as a mentor and inspiring math teacher in Billings. Among his former students have been astronaut Loren Acton, former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, as well as a host of professors, scientists, engineers, doctors and “lots of math teachers.”

“I had some really good students and they have done well,” he said.

He was among the first to embrace and train himself to use computers more than 45 years ago, and is still a technophile who readily looks up topics online that interest him.

He said, in response to the usual question, that he owes his age to “picking the right grandparents.” But he does advocate exercise and a healthy diet. He also believes in exercising his mind. He works the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles, Sudoku puzzles, keeps up on current events and still likes to read. His only concession to age is that he is hard of hearing and must wear hearing aids.

The well-spoken man still lives independently in a Billings senior center, and he regularly visits friends who are older than he. In fact, he is junior, by one year, to McDonald “Don” Held, the oldest man who works out regularly at the Billings Y. Each year the Y’s staff celebrates both of the men with a huge party attended by city officials as well as family and friends. In addition to working out, Myers has coffee with friends a couple of times a week and once every-other week has lunch with a group of retired teachers.

“And there is one more thing that has helped (his longevity),” Myers said.  “I don’t worry about things that might happen. Most of those things never do happen. If they do, you can take care of them, if you can. If you can’t, then let them go.”

 

Kerry Hanson (406) 994-7620, kerry.hanson@msuaf.org