Local News

How’d this East Barnard man reach 104? Lots of reading, he says

By Catherine Morrissey, Community News Service

Editor’s note: Catherine Morissey reported this story on assignment from The Herald of Randolph. The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.

Floyd Van Alstyne has just as many stories and anecdotes as you’d expect from a104-year-old, plus a few more. 

Visiting the East Barnard home he shares with his wife, Marjorie — perhaps to wish him a happy birthday Feb. 29 — is like traveling back in time.

He purchased the house immediately after he was discharged from World War II, and he still resides there today. 

“See, I got discharged the second of November 1945 and bought this place the 17th,” he said on a recent afternoon, sitting in his wheelchair while idly pulling at his brown-and-orange flannel shirt. “Didn’t even come up here.”

Paths of people treading through the rooms have been permanently worn into the original wooden floors, a feature Floyd is proud the house still has.

Courtesy Tim Calabro/The Herald of Randolph
East Barnard’s Floyd Van Alstyne turns 104 this month — or more properly, he turns 26. The centenarian celebrates his birthday on leap day.

Everywhere you look, you can find museum-grade pieces. In just 8 square feet of wall space alone there’s a one-of-a-kind Sabra Field print of his family’s farm gifted by the artist, a more than 100-year-old charcoal drawing of horses done by his mother, a painting made in 1890 of a Rhode Island harbor and a framed 100th birthday card addressed to Floyd and signed by former President Donald Trump.

Marjorie, who has been married to Floyd for 76 years, has several collections scattered throughout their home including an impressive herd of elephant statues that’s over 100 members strong. There are dolls in glass cupboards, now-antique magazines and, most importantly, a regularly used bookshelf.

Floyd’s reading fixation these days?

“I’m reading a law book right now, constitutional law,” he said, handing over his copy of the Vermont Constitution, marked up with neon yellow highlighter, margin notes and sections messily circled. After years of research, he thinks Article 7 sums up his position best: “That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people, nation or community, and not for the particular … advantage of any single person … and that the community [has a right] to reform or alter government,” it reads, among other provisions.

As for how he achieved such an old age, Floyd thinks it has to do with being a lifelong reader and learner. 

“I never played a hand of cards, I never shot pool — I’d get a book and get in a corner somewhere and read it,” he said, recalling his time in the service. 

Just like his mother, he always kept a dictionary on hand to look up how to spell words. “If I wanted to write a letter, I didn’t want it to look like I was a complete damn fool,” he said.

His favorite book is the 1941 novel “Matchlock Gun” by Walter D. Edmonds, which helped spur his passions for reading and learning. Floyd claims its protagonist, Edward Van Alstyne, is a direct ancestor. The book inspired him to look into his family history and lineage, which has since been compiled into a thick binder by one of his daughters. He was quick to brag: “I go back to 800.”

One of the more exciting genealogical finds he and Marjorie laugh over: “Actually, we’re related.” 

“We found out by reading the history,” he said. “She and I had the same grandfather eight generations ago.”

He also credits his longevity to remaining active. His working life began at 15 when he broke in a team of horses and started logging. Throughout his long and winding career, Floyd cleared the top of Jay Peak Resort, helped build the Vermont interstates, was the fire warden of Barnard for over 30 years and all the while maintained his maple farm and sawmill.

Today, his property has over 3,000 trees that his two sons, Greyling and Clay, tap and take care of. The brothers also run the sawmill, which produces building materials. Floyd doesn’t get to be as involved as much as he once was — his wheelchair makes it hard. Even so, he still moves freely around his home. “I use my feet … Pretty good at it,” Floyd said, shuttling himself and his chair to another room to grab a few papers.

And while he’s technically turning 104 this year, he likes to remind people he was born on a leap day — so maybe wish him a happy 26th this time around.

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