Mary Behymer: One in a million

November 2, 1916  - March 29, 2017

Mary Behymer passed away at her home in Cordova on 29 March 2017.  She was 100 years old.

Mary was born on the plains of North Dakota of Swedish immigrants on Nov. 2, 1916, and along with 7 other children, lived an early life surrounded by sheep, cows, and hay.

Perhaps that is where she learned the true grit and quiet humor that will be most remembered and cherished by Cordovans who were lucky to be her friend.

Mary married Mel Behymer in Bend, Oregon, and the couple came to Cordova via steamboat in 1942. Mel’s cousin Howard Behymer had found them a small house that overlooked the Cordova boat harbor available for $2000, and as their daughter Mary Alma recalled, it took Mel 15 years to pay it off.

Mel worked as a butcher, and the couple raised 5 children in the two-story home that teetered on the edge of Observation Avenue. When sons Glen and Roger went to work at Jim Poor’s Pt. Chehalis floating crab processor tied up to the City Dock, Mary Alma recalled her mom waving a red dish towel out the window to signal that hot lunch was ready if they hurried home.

Mary must have had different towels for every occasion. For several years, her son Jerry was the skiff man on Les Maxwell’s Icy Cape. He remembered his Mom waving a white towel out the window to wish them luck when they pulled out of the harbor for another season of seining.


My sister Sharon Ermold lived in a home right next door to the Behymer place for many years, and became a close friend. She remembered how strong Mary was. “She loved to garden, and was constantly shoring up the road grade by her house, moving rocks, and even mixing and pouring her own cement. When it rained hard, she would be out in the street with a pick and shovel diverting the runoff so it wouldn’t flood her flower beds or their basement.”

“Mary would invite me in to share tea and information about gardening. She had these African violets and fuchsias that were so pretty, and if I mentioned them, she would insist on giving me some. Plus Mary loved to chat. I remember she had a radio scanner so she could keep tabs on what was going on, and every now and then the static would interrupt our visits.”

Mary loved to walk, recalled Jackie Bruce. “I would pick her up, we would drive at the road, park, and then start trekking.”

Mary Alma laughed at the mention of Jackie Bruce. “If anyone could get into trouble, it was those two.  One time they got tangled up trying to sneak through some barb wire at a junkyard on Cabin Lake Road to check out what looked like a special collector’s item.”

This dynamic duo also ran amuck of local constabularies at the Burn Pile, of all places.  Mary hated black slugs, which had become a major nuisance around Cordova, and she and Jackie had gathered up a plastic bag full of them from their yards. They took them down to the Burn Pile for disposal. Unbeknownst to them, the City had a stakeout in the overlooking hillside to video violators of the Burn Pile Rules, which banned plastics.

They were caught on tape, and Jackie was summoned to court.  In a proceedings that should have made the then popular radio show “Paul Harvey – Here’s the Rest of the Story,” Jackie was threatened with a significant fine – unless she would identify her partner in crime, who could not be recognized in the fuzzy recording.

“Jackie took the rap”, said her proud husband Randy Bruce. “No way she was going to turn state’s evidence against Mary.”

Jackie and Mary had their followers, and before it was all over, an angry mob of protestors had gathered at City Hall and literally chased off the city manager, who was trying to sneak out a back door. He soon had a job as Top Dog in Whittier.

Mary’s stamina was legendary. She hiked to Crater Lake with Jerry and friend Anita De Leo when 80, and later that same year parasailed tandem with Jerry in Hawaii.

Mary loved playing cards; pinochle  and cribbage were her favorite games.   “She taught us cribbage before we could even count”, said Jerry. Neighbor Glenn Borodkin would drop over for a hand of pinochle when he wasn’t fishing or working at the Valdez terminal.

Travel was another favorite. Gary and Carol Weinrich would take her on shopping expeditions to Anchorage via the ferry. Her daughter Mary Alma laughed. “One time they took her to a movie.  She liked it, except for the part when a couple actually kissed. She hadn’t been to a movie in 50 years.”

Mary and Becky Chapek were close friends, and they made the trip of a lifetime to New York.  The duo had a great time, but alas were unable to visit Ellis Island, where Mary had wanted to trace her parent’s entrance to America. It was shortly after 9/11, and the Statue of Liberty and nearby facilities were closed.

Just think. Mary was born before the U.S. entered WWI – the “War to End All Wars.”  Three of her sons served in the Vietnam conflict.  At age 85, a new kind of war impacted her life.

One of Mary’s favorite hobbies was collecting obituaries of Cordovans.  She had several scrapbooks full of them. Talk about fascinating chronological history – and conversation pieces. During visits, Mary could add all kinds of between the lines information that wasn’t included, likely for fear of lawsuits.

Ironically, one of Mary’s wishes was that no obituary be written of her.

So here we are.

The word Centenarian does not do justice to someone who has lived 100 years. Nor can a short 500-word feature describe what Mary Behymer had seen and done in her lifetime.  And meant to her family and this community.

Mary Behymer was one in a million.

Card shark Mary Behymer in Action: “Pinochle, anyone?” Photo by Jerry Behymer
Mary Behymer celebrates another year with her family. From left, Roger, Mary, Jerry and Mary Alma Behymer.
Photos courtesy of Jerry Behymer