Monday, June 1, 2020
Turning 100 in the Age of the Coronavirus
Esther Peterson Boyd never imagined celebrating her hundredth birthday in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. But it didn’t faze her.
Sunday, May 17, 2020


Heather LaMonica Deckard has heard scads of stories from Grandma Esther over the years. But her favorite involves a young suitor who hiked through the snow to visit Esther when she was 16.

He wanted to marry her, Deckard said, and showed her how he’d gotten her name tattooed on his body as proof.

“She turned him down,” Deckard said.

Who says it’s just the young’uns who get to dress up and have all the fun?!

While that young man had his love for Esther tattooed on his arm, about 50 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have their love for Esther Irene Peterson Boyd tattooed on their heart.

And it was on display Saturday as dozens upon dozens of well-wishers turned out to wish the Bellevue woman “Happy Birthday” on her 100th birthday.

A dozen fire trucks and police cars, their lights flashing and sirens blaring, led the parade past a canopy set up in the driveway where Boyd sat on her throne surrounded by balloons and banners proclaiming “Happy Hundredth Birthday.”

Dozens of family members and friends followed during the 20-minute parade that at one time stretched all the way down Kirtley and Melrose streets.

Senior Connection Director Teresa Beahen Lipman hands off a birthday present.

Don and Laurie Yeager drove by in their shiny red sports car while others honked from a 1918 car that was older than Esther. Sherry Thorson managed to note that both her parents had lived to a hundred, while another friend waved a sign that proclaimed Boyd “The Bingo Queen” of the Senior Connection.

One young couple on bikes said they did not know Grandma Esther, "but anytime someone turns 100 they need to be celebrated."

“I’ve taken part in a lot of Wagon Days parades and this seems every bit as big,” said Teri Niedrich, one of Boyd’s five children.

Boyd waved and waved and waved some more at all those giving her virtual hugs.

Open-air jeeps and sunroofs have become must-haves in the era of the pandemic drive-bys.

“I don’t feel a hundred at all,” said Boyd, who will actually join America’s exclusive club of 80,000 centenarians on Monday.

Then, as a couple of her grandchildren closed in, she said, “Take your masks off. I’m not afraid of anything.”

“She says over and over, ‘Isn’t this the darndest thing about the pandemic,” noted Niedrich. “She’s not a fearful person, and she tells us all the time, ‘This too shall pass.’ That keeps our spirits up.”

Boyd just missed the Spanish influenza, which started in 1917, gained momentum in 1918 and petered out in 1919.

“One of the greatest privileges of my life was being raised by Grandmother Esther,” said Deckard, with little Ruby,as her sister Tiffany Black nodded.

A card-carrying member of one of the valley’s pioneer families, she was born in 1920 in Carey where her grandparents had settled 16 years earlier. John Peterson had brought his family to Carey by horse and wagon and, when he arrived, he built the town’s first sawmill out Fish Creek.

As a young’un, Esther watched Indians ride through town on horseback. And she amused herself herding turkeys and riding her half-blind horse named Chief.

Though her family moved to Jerome shortly after she was born, they made frequent trips back to the Wood River Valley to camp and visit relatives.

“It used to take a couple hours to get here driving on those narrow dirt roads,” she said.

Boyd eloped with Johnnie Boyd three weeks before high school graduation. They were married alongside Johnnie’s sister Pauline and her fiancé at a double wedding in Elko.

Johnnie Boyd, who went by the nickname Slick, sold Nash cars in Twin Falls for 20 years and helped to build the highway over Galena Summit while Esther raised five children.

The family never missed a chance to go camping. One time Esther fetched a pail of water while camping near Redfish Lake and found so many coho salmon in the creek that she and the children went after them with hooks stuck on the ends of two-foot sticks.

“We hooked seven big ones,” she said, holding her hands four feet apart. “We roasted them over the fire and had a mighty good dinner that night. Of course, I’m sure you couldn’t do that today. I don’t know whether it was legal back then.”

Towards the end of the Depression, Esther recalls, Hailey resembled little more than a ghost town.

“In those days people didn’t even have money for the taxes on their home. It reminds me as we go through this time not to worry. “There were some bumps and hard places, but that’s what teaches you the lessons and helps you learn to appreciate life.”

Back then, it was the Union Pacific Railroad that provided the economic stimulus package as it built Sun Valley Lodge in the mid-1930s.

“Wow! It was like a miracle,” Esther recalled. “Jobs opened up and everyone was so excited. The lodge was quite magnificent to us because we were very humble people. We got to see Sonja Henie ice skating—she was cheery as a button. Of course, the ice skating shows they have today are much more elaborate.”

As their kids grew, the Boyds spent their spare time riding horses and taking part in cattle drives in the South Hills near Twin Falls. They even raced horses at one time. But when Johnnie had a heart attack in 1980, it was the Wood River Valley where he wanted to spend the rest of his days.

Here, he continued to ride horses and help with roundups as the three months the doctors had given him stretched to three years.

Esther took on her first paying jobs, chauffeuring older ladies for picnic lunches outside the Sun Valley Lodge. And she got the joy of being close to each of her 17 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

“I love to read. I get in a book and I travel with that book—to Australia, to the islands...” said Boyd, who is an avid traveler, even traveling recently to Alaska and Hawaii. “When one of the boys was having trouble reading, I told him, ‘You may never get to do what the boy in that book does so enjoy it with him.’ ”

She’s fortunate, she says, that all of her children--Teri Niedrich, Peggi Mikel and Richard and Larry Boyd—live close by in Hailey, Twin Falls or Boise. She cared for another daughter Lynda Barbee, who had multiple sclerosis, well into her 90s.

“Now I’m trying to teach my children how to have a happy senior life,” she said. “We have the most wonderful Senior Connection here. I resisted going for years because I thought it was too old for me. Now I wish I’d gone earlier.”

Boyd was named to the Blaine County Museum Heritage Court in 2009 at the tender age of 89. Her other pride and joy is her church--Calvary Bible. Boyd contends she went from being a shy person to an extrovert after finding God.

“God came into my life and it gets more beautiful every day. To have a savior so I don’t have to work for my salvation...” she said. “I’ve had a rich, fulfilling life. They say, ‘Don’t look back.’ But—ohmigosh--how much we would miss if we didn’t look back.”

When conditions become safe enough, Boyd’s family is planning a big birthday bash at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden—the party they would have had Saturday if the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t interrupted their plans.

But Boyd seemed plenty happy with her drive-by celebration—the party she never could have imagined three months ago.

“This was over and above anything I could think of,” she said, as the last car pulled away down the street.


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