BROOKSVILLE — Growing up with four brothers in New Brunswick, Canada, Alice Byers developed a penchant for male pursuits. But her father didn't want her to become a tomboy, so he forbade her to fish or hunt.
That didn't stop the athletic girl.
Her brothers smuggled her out of the house to join them at a river where the fish swarmed in schools, or in a forest rife with wildlife awaiting harvest for the dinner table, or on a mountain climb "just to see what's on the other side," Byers said.
Those endeavors served her well. Today, Byers turns 100 years old.
She attributes her longevity to "plenty of sunshine," beginning with her clandestine outings years ago.
At age 10, young Alice Dannells caught a 16-pound salmon in the St. John's River. One brother held her around the waist; another held on to him as their sister battled the lunker.
She landed the fish by herself. But what would she tell her father? The brothers, toting the trophy fish toward home, said not to worry — they'd take care of that.
As they approached the house, they told Alice to stretch her arms out. They laid the salmon across the expanse. The girl mounted the steps and said, "Pop, look what I caught for you."
"That melted him," she recalled with a smile last week.
Hunting then became allowed. "You live in Canada, you hunt," the centenarian pointed out, "especially when you're brought up with four boys. I think I was born with a gun in my hands."
Also, she said, "Those were tough years, when you had to put food on the table."
"I shot a big black bear at age 18," she recalled. It skinned out so much more meat than the family of eight could consume, the remainder had to be sold to a cannery in Maine.
With everyone passionate about hunting — and many of the men without time to train bird dogs — Alice took on the assignment.
"Pointers, a couple of red setters, bird dogs for pheasants and partridge," she noted.
She ran the novices in the fields, an apt accompaniment to her enthusiasm for hiking.
"I climbed every mountain in Canada," Byers declared. "I climbed Mount Washington in all four seasons."
Walk down the aisle
At age 18, she married Arthur Byers, a young man who attended the family church. His work as a jewelry engraver fueled her interest in art.
She took up pearl inlay work, designing and creating small tabletops. She took classes in fine arts and taught them as well.
"I loved teaching art," Byers said.
She also restored antiques, making good wherever her husband's work took him.
"We moved around a lot," she said.
Some 20 years ago, Arthur Byers was summoned to an engraving job in Tampa, and Alice has been here ever since.
Arthur Byers and their son, Fred, are both deceased.
"I've outlived four brothers, a sister, all my cousins," Byers said. "I'm the only one."
But Mrs. B, as she's known among acquaintances, has gathered many friends during various sojourns during her long life.
At least 25 of them will celebrate today when fellow residents at Spring Oaks assisted living facility, west of Brooksville, will fete her with a birthday party. Friends are coming from across Florida and Canada.
The congregation at Christ Lutheran Church in Brooksville, where she attends, commemorated her long life on Sunday.
She left her house in Brooksville in January and moved in at Spring Oaks. Why?
"Darned if I know," Byers deadpanned before adding, "I'm too independent for relatives."
Her daughter-in-law lives near Bradenton, and a niece lives in Gilchrist County in North Florida.
Byers is legally blind, has had to have surgery on her nose and needs a walker to get around. But the stalwart Canadian still "hikes" — short strolls outdoors around the facility's campus, with a caregiver at her side. And she takes part in the center's exercise class once a week.
Asked about her goals, Byers is thoughtful.
"Nothing really," she said. "To reach my 100th birthday and maybe a little bit beyond that."
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]