Barney Myers was just 8 years old when World War I ended.
It was Nov. 11, 1918.
“Church bells were ringing,” he said. “Everybody was excited.”
Since then, he has lived through hundreds of historic landmarks: Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, the space race; the list goes on.
Last week, Myers celebrated a personal landmark. He turned 107 on Sept. 13.
Nearly 50 people gathered for a simple celebration at St. John’s Lutheran Ministries chapel hall. Residents sat on couches and walkers. A group of children waited for someone to open Wilcoxson’s ice cream boxes. Among the quiet commotion, a man whispered to his daughter, “It’s not every day you get to celebrate a man’s 107th birthday.”
“People ask me why we don’t do anything big for his birthday,” said Joyce Fletcher, Myers’ daughter. He will let his family host a big birthday celebration when he turns 110, she said. At that age he would leave behind his title of centenarian and become a supercentenarian.
“That’s what he wants,” Fletcher said.
Only one supercentenarian has ever lived in Montana. Walter Breuning of Great Falls lived to be 114, making him the oldest man in the world at the time. He died on April 14, 2011.
The centenarian population, however, keeps growing. According to an August 2017 census report by the Department of Health and Human Services, 119 centenarians live in Montana, 23 of whom live in Yellowstone County. Myers is the oldest person in the county.
Montana has one of the fastest-growing 65-and-older populations in the nation, with 1,065 people turning 65 every month, according to DPHHS. It's a trend that is expected to continue at that rate for the next 16 years.
In 2010, there were 175 people older than 100 in Montana, according to census data, and that number could rise to 3,000 by 2025, said DPHHS spokesman Jon Ebelt.
Across the board, centenarians credit their longevity to "staying active, both physically and mentally,” Ebelt said. “And of course medical advances over the years.”
Myers, who was a distance runner for most of his life, now walks twice daily around the grounds of the St. John’s campus. He spends afternoons solving Sudoku problems, and his room is well-stocked with books.
His love of numbers and problem solving stems from a lengthy career teaching advanced math.
Myers was a math teacher at Billings Senior High from 1943 to 1973. Many of his students went on to become doctors, lawyers and college professors. One of his students, Loren Acton, became a physicist who orbited the Earth on Spacelab-2 in 1985.
Although his hearing is dwindling, he still stays in contact with other teachers, his barber Marvin Schmitt and students he has taught or coached, like John Dailey, who Myers coached in cross country in 1962. Now, Dailey meets with Myers every Thursday for coffee at St. John’s.
So does Irv Scheidt, who met Myers in 1967 when they taught at Senior.
The three have been having coffee together every week for about seven years.
“I admire his intelligence and the fact that he has retained so much of his memory,” Dailey said. “It’s a source of amazement for me.”
Conversations between the men focus on history and what life was like for Myers back then.
College cost $100 for a year, and Myers had to work for two years to save up to pay for it. He traveled from North Dakota to Texas, driving combines for farmers.
"You were lucky to get 50 cents an hour," Myers said.
His first motorcycle was a 1928 Indian, and from 1935 to 1940 he drove Yellowstone National Park tour buses. He often drove from Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful.
His favorite tour was the sunrise ride to Mount Washburn — not so much for the destination, but for where the tours started. He would pick tourists up at the Old Faithful Inn, a building tour bus drivers were "barred" from entering. When picking up guests, the drivers could go inside, he said. "I got in there many times," Myers said with a smirk. He would go early in the morning before the place opened up for breakfast.
He also remembers how his house shook and rattled during the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake.
At the time he lived on Avenue B in Billings with his wife Margaret and daughters Joanne, Joyce and Janet.
“It shook our place in Billings pretty good,” Myers said.
He was married to Margaret for 61 years. He took care of her while she battled Alzheimer’s until she died in 1996.
“The thing about tragedy — it always happens,” Myers said. “You can’t bring them back, so you might as well go on.”
That philosophy reflects how he approaches every day. Even though 50 people celebrated his birthday last week, he didn't treat the day as anything special.
"It doesn't mean much to me," Myers said. "A lot of people make quite a bit of it, but it's just another day."