BILLINGS — Ask for stories about former Billings Senior teacher Barney Myers, and you’ll get a list straight out of the most interesting man in the world catalog.
“Motorcycle trips through Amarillo, to driving a Yellowstone Bus."
“He competed as part of a 4x100 relay team in the Big Sky Games. I think he was 102.”
“I never had a math teacher as good as Barney - at Stanford, at Columbia, anywhere.”
That’s what you’ll hear most, that Myers, who spent nearly 40 years teaching math across Montana - the final 31 at Billings Senior - was one of the great minds of his time.
“He was teaching mathematical concepts that were almost being discovered as they were coming along," said Myers' grandson Mark Schulze. "And he would go study at Johns Hopkins and University of Oklahoma to learn these concepts in order to bring them back.”
Myers died Sept. 5, eight days shy of his 110th birthday, and his legacy remains bright in the memories of his former students.
“I was a good math student and went on in college to study under one of the 20th century’s most renowned mathematicians," said David Butler, a former student of Myers in the 1960s. "A former assistant to Albert Einstein, a scientist who worked with Richard Feynman on the Manhattan Project, the inventor of the computer language BASIC, and subsequently the president of Dartmouth College. He was a very good teacher, but Barney Myers was far better.”
But your favorite teacher in school has always gone beyond the material. For one of Robyn Butler-Hall’s high school friends, it was Myers’ character when no one else was watching.
“Both of her parents declined with Alzheimer’s or some kind of dementia," Butler-Hall said. "She told me, 'The one thing I think of when I remember Barney was that he visited my dad every single week until he died. None of his other friends did that.'”
For others, it was Myers’ work starting the school’s cross country program. After Butte won the initial state title in 1964, Senior won the next five. Butler was on the first team.
“It was a lot like being with him as a teacher," Butler said. "He was pretty low key. He was kind. We went out to Pioneer Park and he was out there with his stopwatch. That photograph of him standing there with his stopwatch is classic - that’s Barney as I remember him.”
You’ll notice most of Myers’ photos from his time at Senior paint a stoic portrait. Breaking through that exterior was always students' No. 1 goal.
“Our greatest challenge in accelerated math was to try to get this calm, low-key fellow to crack a smile," said Butler-Hall.
“He didn’t laugh our smile very often. But when he did, it would just light up your life," added Butler.
That’s what Myers lived for, and the reason why the group thought setting up a Billings Education Foundation endowment in his name would be the perfect tribute. Budgets are tighter than ever for public school teachers, and the grants will fund projects and ideas to help inspire generations of students for years to come.
“He was definitely in that mode where he was always passing along wisdom or thoughts or learnings," Schulze said. "He was the great, great, great grandson of people who fought in the Revolutionary War for the Maryland Regiment. So you think of the context of what he was able to see, and the newness of the country from 1910-2020. It's amazing."
His legacy will now carry that much further.
If you'd like to donate to the Barney Myers Memorial endowment, click here.