Ken Byerly

Published 7:17 pm Friday, November 20, 2015

JERICHO, Vt. — Ken Byerly, 81, died suddenly on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at his home in Jericho, Vermont. He was born on June 29, 1934, in Greensboro, North Carolina, the first of three sons born to Kenneth Rhodes Byerly Sr. and Louise Hanes Byerly.

Ken’s father moved from job to job in Stokes County, North Carolina, and then on to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to work for the Chamber of Commerce, where Ken remembered he and his brother Hanes, one year younger, racing tricycles on the sidewalk.

In 1940, when Ken was 6, the family moved to Thermopolis, Wyoming, when Ken Sr. bought the local weekly newspaper. Then World War II started. When his father enlisted in the Army Air Corps, Ken, his brother and mother returned to her family’s home on the North Carolina farm where Ken and Hanes then spent several formative years during the war.

When the war ended, the family reunited in Thermopolis, then in September 1947 moved to Lewistown when Ken Sr. purchased the then Lewistown Democrat News.

Ken and Hanes grew up in Lewistown, graduating from Fergus County High School. Ken played all sports in season and made all-state in football and basketball his senior year. He went on to play football for the University of Montana on an athletic scholarship and majored in journalism. His youngest brother, Dave, was born a few weeks before Ken drove away to college in 1952.

Ken served briefly in the peacetime Army. When he emerged at age 23 he became editor of The Tidewater News in Franklin, Virginia, a newspaper his father had purchased in 1957 and that Hanes would lead as publisher from 1960 until his retirement in 2006. He won various writing awards from the Virginia Press Association at The Tidewater News, and later worked a year as a reporter at the Washington Post in Washington D.C.

Ken said “wanderlust got the better of me,” and he embarked on one of what he called his “two great life adventures,” spending a year in Europe traveling and writing, “Until the money ran out in May 1963.”

He returned to the states and went to work as a reporter for Newsday on Long Island, N.Y. He met and married Raquel Gil, a marriage that lasted three years.

Ken began working as a stockbroker on Wall Street in New York City and took up skiing in 1970 at age 35 after seeing the movie “The Downhill Racer” with Robert Redford. Skiing remained one of his passions through the last winter of his life.

He worked for several brokerage firms in Manhattan, settling in finally at Merrill Lynch.

Ken married the love of his life, junior high school Spanish teacher Priscilla Morse, in 1977, six months after they met on a ski lift in Vermont. They lived in Tarrytown and retired 10 years later to build a home near Bozeman, Montana.

Ken’s brother Dave owned and operated the Lewistown News-Argus then and with his wife, Donna, had three children.

“A lot of visiting back and forth began,” Ken said, “a lot of hiking and camping with Dave and his family in the mountains.”

Ken and Priscilla skied and explored all over the West, but after three years, in 1990, they missed the New England autumns and bought a house on a hill with views near Burlington, Vermont. Priscilla taught Spanish at the University of Vermont. Ken intensified his writing — short stories and novels — and they skied together all over New England.

They also hiked, over three summers, the 280 miles from Canada to Massachusetts of Vermont’s Long Trail, which ignited Ken’s second great life adventure.

Over 11 years — often with Priscilla, many times with his brother Dave and numerous friends, sometimes alone — he hiked the 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. He finished in 2005 in Browns Gap, North Carolina, a place he chose because it was in the state where he was born.

Meanwhile, he and Priscilla continued to ski, in both the West and the East, sometimes as many as 50 days a winter. Priscilla retired in 2008, and she and Ken frequently hiked and swam together and traveled to many places, including all 48 states in continental America. Ken continued his writing and published three novels and two books of short stories.

About 2012 Priscilla contracted aphasia, a form of Alzheimer’s, and after many emotional trips and moments, she died holding her husband’s hand on Aug. 16, 2015. Ken came to feel that on that day he died too.

He buried her ashes in the old family cemetery in Pine Hall, North Carolina, and had a tombstone erected. On one side was Priscilla’s name and beneath that, “Golden Red,” his nickname for her through the years. On the other side, his name and her nickname for him, “Kenny B.”

The burial service at the cemetery in North Carolina will be at a later date.

He is survived by his brothers, Hanes of Franklin, and Dave (Donna) of Lewistown; nephews, Chris (Laura) Byerly of Arlington, Virginia, and Jon Byerly of Fort Collins, Colorado.; nieces, Cassie Byerly of Washington, D.C., and Belinda Byerly-Robins (Scott) of Santa Cruz, California; grand-nieces, Brady Byerly of Arlington, and Avery Robins of Santa Cruz; and grand-nephew, Marshall Robins of Arcata, California.