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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Geri Howell, a friend of Alma H. Boyce, greets him at his home in Salt Lake City on his 100th birthday, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe it's his daily breakfast of oatmeal mush.

Or his morning walk. Or a love of reading and interest in the news of the day.

"I try not to miss my afternoon nap. That's when you recharge," said Alma H. Boyce, who celebrated his 100th birthday Tuesday with family and close friends at an open house in his backyard.

Turning 100, he said, isn't much different from turning 99. 

"If someone told you when you were young that you'd live to be 100, you would think they flipped out," Boyce said.

His priorities have been service to others, his church, his country and a deep devotion to his wife, Jean Bradshaw Boyce, and family, family members say. The couple was married nearly 64 years when Jean died six years ago.

Boyce, who has macular degeneration, rode the bus daily to Brighton Gardens to visit his wife the final months of her life.

"She was, without a doubt, the best thing that came into my life," he said.

The couple had four children, David, Carolyn, Barbara and Steven. Steven died in 1997, which Boyce said was one of the more difficult points of his life. 

"You can't live this long without having some difficult things happen to you or hurt you or have things you wish you could have avoided," he said.

For the most part, Boyce enjoyed many happy years with his family and enjoyed his work as an attorney specializing in property law. Boyce was a partner in a firm whose principal client was American Savings and Loan. He practiced law well into his 80s.

While taking the five-day exam to become a member of the Utah Bar was akin to "torture," Boyce said he made a career in law because he "felt it was an opportunity to do good."

Besides, he joked, "I wasn't bright enough to be a doctor."

Boyce grew up on Canyon Road, one of six children. As small boy, he liked to walk to the state Capitol and "ride" the concrete lions that stood guard at the building entrances.

"That was a majestic building to go into," he said.

Boyce also would ride his sled down A Street. He recalled one trip that came to an abrupt stop when he and his sleigh ended up under a horse-drawn coal cart.

Another fond childhood memory was learning that his elementary school, Lafayette School, had been destroyed by fire. It seemed like good fortune to the young boy.

"I knew when the school burned down that I was a free man," he said.

That feeling lasted until he figured out that he and his classmates would have to make up the lost instructional time. 

As a young man, Boyce worked a number of jobs to pay for college and a mission to England for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1930s. One of his jobs was working as a carhop and waiter at Salt Lake City's "Coon Chicken Inn," Boyce said, wincing at name of the establishment.

Boyce served in the same mission as former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. While the men were not mission companions, they became lifelong friends. They were among a group of returned missionaries that called themselves the Windsor Club. The men and their wives met regularly for some 60 years.

The Boyce family's attachment to the United Kingdom is "deep-seated and real." Four generations of Boyce men served church missions there, he said. 

Boyce also served in the military during World War II in the Counter Intelligence Corps. He served stateside investigating military plane crashes to determine whether the nation's enemies had any role in the accidents.

He does not recall any such findings, but the work could be heart-wrenching because many of the crashes involved young men and women.

Boyce said he credits his parents for his strong faith in God, a sense of gratitude and a pragmatic approach to problem solving.

His daughter Carolyn MacKenzie said he taught her and her siblings how to be frugal. When the children seemed indifferent to the cost of leaving on lights and appliances in the home, he challenged them to be part of the solution of reducing their electricity bill.

If the bill went down due to their collective effort to turn off the lights, he'd spend a like amount on ice cream sundaes.

"We all got our sundaes," MacKenzie said.

Barbara Bowen said her father's faith has been an inspiration to her.

"He's literally worn out the carpet kneeling next to his bed," she said.

Boyce lives alone in the Salt Lake home he and Jean built more than 60 years ago.

"When we came out here then, it was mostly hay fields and weeds," he said.

Boyce occasionally has help from family and neighbors but he has a "stubborn" streak and largely cares for himself, MacKenzie said.

Part of Boyce's charm is his sense of humor, another quality that has helped him through life's ups and downs, she said.

As for turning 100, Boyce said, "You just hang around. You sure don't plan on it."

At the conclusion of this interview, Boyce's daughters promised him a nice lunch as a reward.

"I ought to get a cookie right now for my cooperation," he cracked.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com