Mr. Byers marks a century of living
Adam Byers celebrated his 100th birthday with an open house from 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday. His family and friends were so excited by his centennial mark they showed up early and stayed late.
And while he was the center of attention, his 1929 Model A Ford took a close second. Byers is well-known in the community for the classic car, which originally was his main mode of transportation and later became the second set of wheels for his growing family. The restored vehicle was parked prominently on the front lawn, rumble seat up, as the party took place at the Grindstone Hill Road home he shares with his son and daughter-in-law James and Laura Byers.
Adam Meyer Byers was born Oct. 27, 1909 to Joseph and Anna Mary (Meyer) Byers. As a youngster on the Hades Church Road farm, he helped out with milking, a herd of four. He also remembered playing with a marble roller his dad gave him at age 4. That contraption, a zigzag wooden channel, survived the ages and his sons recalled it with glee too.
Byers attended Clay Hill for elementary school and finished up at Greencastle High School in 1928.
"May I brag about it?" he asked. "I graduated at the top." He was valedictorian for the class of 40.
While the only child of a farming couple, that life wasn't to be for Byers, though he continued to live in the rural area. He went into teaching. "It was the only thing I could do. I wasn't strong enough to farm. I could only lift 50 pounds," said the man, who, as indicated from all the photographs on the birthday table, was slender his entire life.
He headed off to Juniata College for a bachelor's degree, and later to Penn State for a master's. He returned to his roots and taught at Clay Hill school. After that closed he went to Brown’s Mill School. He also taught at two colleges and a church school during his career, which ended with 30 years in the Greencastle-Antrim School District. His main subject was history. He retired in 1977.
Along the way, Byers' personal life changed. He was a bachelor longer than most. "I couldn't find anybody to marry me, I guess." But then he did. At the age of 41 he met Elizabeth, 13 years his junior. She was a nurse caring for his mother at Messiah Home in Harrisburg.
They were engaged when he found himself in a predicament some don't live to talk about. After visiting his mother and future wife on Aug. 2, 1952, he picked up three hitchhikers in Army uniforms in the middle of the night, and became a kidnap victim.
The Aug. 7 edition of the local paper reported on what happened, stating “Unharmed after his exciting adventure, Mr. Byers on Tuesday gave The Echo-Pilot a first hand account of his experience.”
South of Carlisle one rider poked Byers with a knife and another took over driving duties. Later the trio packed into the front seat and moved Byers to the back, with the doors locked. They drove through Greencastle on Route 11 to the southern states.
At 8 a.m. that Sunday morning an Army convoy was blocking the road, and a military policeman was directing traffic in Roanoke, Va. As Byers’ 1950 Buick slowed he opened the rear window and climbed out. He ran to the M.P., who sent him safely to the police station. The FBI was notified. He got back home by bus Monday evening.
The car was recovered in Ohio and the men were all apprehended. They had been absent without leave from Sampson Air Base in Geneva, N.Y. Two were 18 and one was 19.
Byers and Elizabeth wed that year and had five children: Anna Mary, Martha, Joseph, James and John. The family grew to include nine grandchildren. Elizabeth died in 2004.
Today Byers walks with a cane, and gets in his daily constitution with a stroll to the mailbox. He sports the beard begun 65 years ago. He still looks the part of Abraham Lincoln, who he has played in dramatic roles. For many years he was onstage for Old Home Week pageants. He worships regularly at Five Forks Brethren in Christ Church near Waynesboro.
In reflecting on his own tenure through American history, Byers considered Ronald Reagan the greatest president of his lifetime. He found computers the most remarkable invention, though he never used one himself.
His five-score years were displayed by memorabilia on the dining room table, including World War II ration books, newspaper clippings, albums, a diploma issued in Latin, the Hoachlander Ford receipt for that $532.90 automobile and his black button baby shoes.
Though the house was filled with the energy of younger generations, Byers sat calm from the hours of activity. He shared his secret for a long life, which brought him to 2009. "Trust in the Lord. Psalm 103 says 'He forgives all our iniquity and heals all our diseases.' That's pretty good."