Feature Stories

The Byerlys of Jericho: You Call This Retirement?

It’s hard to imagine a more active couple than Ken and Priscilla Byerly of Jericho. Whether it’s tilling the garden by hand, volunteering, skiing, writing or playing the piano, at ages 78 and 77 respectively, the couple always seems to be doing something.

The duo met at a cocktail party in New York City and dated for a few months — including a ski trip to Vermont — but, as Ken put it “it didn’t take.” Three years later, he saw her in a lift line at Stratton and called out to her, asking her to wait. Despite the fact that he had her name wrong, she did wait, and this time they clicked. “I like this woman. We can do things together and we’ve been doing that ever since,” said Ken.

Although the couple’s relationship began in Vermont, it took some time before they relocated to the Green Mountain State. While living in New York, they came up to ski almost every weekend in the winter, but when Ken took early retirement, they decided to head out west. Although he was born in rural North Carolina, Ken had attended the University of Montana on an athletic scholarship, playing football and basketball and graduating with a degree in journalism, so the couple relocated to Bozeman, Montana. “We did nothing but ski and hike,” said Ken. “We made friends and wandered around the West. After about three years, we started to miss the East, particularly the culture and the colors of autumn.”

Given their history of skiing in Vermont, the state seemed like a good option. The couple flew east and spent three days reacquainting themselves with the area. Eventually, Ken left Priscilla in charge, asking her to find a house with a fireplace and a view. Their Jericho home has both, although a neighbor’s trees are starting to slightly impinge on their stunning vista of the Adirondacks. The couple continues to diligently work to improve the property. The first thing they did was remove a big plastic swimming pool and in its place is a series of gardens. Priscilla is in charge of the flowers and berries while Ken rules the vegetable domain. The couple estimates that during the summer, three-quarters of their vegetable intake comes from their garden, with some root crops continuing to nourish them throughout the winter.

Although Ken was very happy with his retirement, Priscilla, a former junior high school teacher, decided to go back to work, and got a job teaching Spanish at UVM. She retired for the second time in December of 2006. Retirement, however, does not mean doing nothing. Priscilla goes to a local Elder Enrichment program, volunteers with Road to Recovery (an American Cancer Society program) and takes piano lessons. This winter, she managed to hit the slopes 20 times at a variety of Vermont resorts, just slightly below Ken’s total of 25 days.

Once the skis are put away, the couple enjoys hiking together. They completed the Long Trail over the course of three summers and then Ken set his sights on the Appalachian Trail. Priscilla has hiked several portions of the trail and Ken was finally able to call himself an end-to-ender in 2005, just before his 71st birthday. “I miss it,” he said. “I still love to hit the trail and see the white blazes. That was one of our great adventures.”

With the trail completed, Ken needed a new goal. He had worked as a journalist before a second career as a stockbroker, editing the Tidewater News and working as a reporter for the Washington Post as well as working as a reporter and editor for Newsday in New York. With time on his hands, he decided to focus on writing and in short order, penned three novels and two short story compilations. The books are self-published and Ken is trying to figure out how best to market them. Several area libraries have at least some of the books in their collections. “The short stories are from my own life,” he said. “If I hadn’t written them, I might have spent a lot of money on psychiatrists. By writing, you put it all out there. It’s very therapeutic.”

At this point, Ken has no plans for any future novels, but he continues to write short stories, keeping a folder with all his story ideas.

The couple thinks the best way to stay young is to stay active. “Once you get in the habit of working out, if you don’t work out you feel like you have a hangover,” said Ken. “I’m driven to do this.”

The first thing the couple talks about at breakfast is what kind of exercise they’ll partake in that day. “After that,” said Ken, “the rest of the day just fits together.”

Ken also believes it’s good to have a goal in life. “If you have a quest, you’ll become consumed by it,” he said, using hiking the Appalachian Trail, skiing out West, writing his books and maximizing his time with Priscilla as examples. “If you have a quest and you care about it, it’s not the finish that’s important. You want the journey to go on and on.”

This article was contributed by Phyl Newbeck.

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