Not even 90 years could slow Ethel Boyd down

By Regina Villiers. Originally published January 26, 1994 in The Suburban Life, added January 14, 2020.

In May 1992, Ethel Boyd invited her best friends and neighbors over to her house to celebrate her 89th birthday with coffee and cake.

     Ethel Boyd was a tiny little woman with a heart as big as Alaska and a spirit as strong as stainless steel.

     She died back in October, and a true liberated woman who was also a true lady, passed from the scene.

     Ethel, who celebrated her 90th birthday with a party last May, was a liberated woman long before Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, was even a hope in her mother’s heart.

     Mrs. Boyd was a compassionate woman who was widely known for her civic efforts.  She worked especially hard for those less fortunate than she.

     But I knew here just as Ethel, a neighbor and friend who gave me many gifts, and the greatest gifts she gave me were the examples of her feisty, indomitable spirit and her droll sense of humor.  She could turn any situation into a laugh, even her advancing age.  And she was one spunky lady.

     Born Ethel Aston, she grew up in Indiana.  Even in her early life she showed spunk and she indulged in activities that, at that time, women left to men.  She liked to tell me stories about how she hunted rabbits with her father when she was growing up.

     After her college years at Butler University, she coached a boys’ basketball team, and occupation highly unusual for a woman in those days.

     “There was no money to hire a coach,” she said.  “I was teaching at the school and came from an athletic family and was capable of doing it.  So, I got the job.”  

     The school was School No. 11 in Pike Township, Marion County, near Indianapolis.  It was locally known as “Snacks.”

     It would be interesting to compare Ethel as a coach to high school basketball coaches today.

     The school was located in a wealthy farming district, and her players were from the tenants on those farms.

     “The owners furnished the tenants a house, a garden, milk and some meat, plus a small salary,” she said, “so they had a good living and were respectable citizens.  We had only eight months of school because my players worked on the farms too.”

     The school had no gym so her team had to play outside, except tournaments and special occasions when they played in the township hall.

     Ethel’s salary for eight months was $800.  Her players had to maintain a high-grade average and behavior standards.  They were expected to represent the school well, and they did.

     For uniforms, the team played in overall cutoffs, except for tournaments.

     “Then,” Ethel said, “they wore beautiful black and gold suits made by my mother, who sold chickens to pay for the material to make them.”

     In a taped interview for the Women’s Sports Foundation of Long Island, N.Y., made shortly before she died, Ethel recounted many of her coaching experiences.  Raye Jean Pond, director of the foundation, had requested the tape to keep as part of the foundation’s records.

     While coaching, Ethel met her future husband, Taylor Boyd, who was a referee at her games.  Later, Taylor was a golf course designer in the Cincinnati area.  He designed and built the Kenwood Country Club golf course in the depth of the depression and stayed on as its superintendent.  He also designed other golf courses in the area.

     As the years advanced on Ethel, she did not retreat an inch and lost none of her verve and independence.  True to the philosophy of Dylan Thomas, she did not “go gently into that good night.”  She lived alone in her own home until the time of her death.

     When her daughter, Alice, tried to take over some of her chores, Ethel protested loudly, and there was a battle of wills.

     Ethel wanted to mow her own lawn, almost till the end of her life.  Sometimes, Alice would sneak over and mow it.  Ethel would sit on the porch and glare at her as she mowed.

     A few years ago, the two indulged in a true battle of wills when Alice decided Ether should no longer drive.  Ethel refused to give up her car.  Alice took the car over to her won house for safekeeping.

     Ethel waited till Alice was out of town.  Then she had a neighbor drive her over to Alice’s house where she got in her car and drove it back home.

     Eventually, Alice had to take the car to anther location and lock it in a building to keep Ethel from driving it.

     My most vivid memory of Ethel will always be as she looked in the summer of 1992, after her 89th birthday, as she sped up and down Juler Avenue all summer long on her three-wheeled bike.

     “Hi there,” she’d chirp at me, jauntily waving as she zipped by my house wearing her bike racing helmet.

     My wish for us all:  May we all live to be 90 years plus, with all the independence and aplomb of Ethel Boyd.