Young Alex Boyer knew how to have fun. He lived on a hill in a tiny mining community in rural Pennsylvania, and one of his hobbies was rolling tires down the hill into the neighboring farmer’s pond--a hobby the farmer was none too happy about. He liked to watch certain programs on television, sometimes in the morning right before school. Fortunately, in that small town, his school was a neighbor too, so as soon as his programs ended, he would fly down the hill with the school bell ringing in his ears to welcome him.
Young Alex grew older, but he didn’t forget how to have fun. When he was old enough to drive, he and his friends would take their cars out in the winter and deliberately try to get them stuck in the snow so they could enjoy getting them unstuck again. His wife Pat Boyer remembers meeting him during college, she a “lowly little freshman” and he already a senior, “a big man on campus.” She knew right away that Alex was special, that “he just had a way about him.”
They married three years later, and stayed married for over 50 years. Pat and Alex had many adventures together during that time, including raising their son Randy (Alex was Cubmaster as well as president of the midget football and high school football team boosters clubs during the periods Randy got involved in these activities), and traveling to Amish country or various historical sites to pursue their love of Civil War history.
One of their biggest adventures was thrust upon them: Alex’s liver transplant. It was a terrifying time, as Pat recalls, since Alex’s liver problems came on suddenly, and at the time of his operation they were “babes in the woods” when it came to transplants. They didn’t know what to expect or what Alex’s post-transplant life would be like. Pat remembers the winter of 1993-94, a bitterly cold season during which Alex was hospitalized for three months at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, first waiting for a transplant and then beginning the slow recovery post-transplant.
“I didn’t know what was happening and didn’t have anybody to hold my hand,” she says. “None of my friends or anyone I knew ever had a transplant. When Alex wasn’t coming out of surgery as well as everybody hoped he would, nobody was saying, ‘It’ll be all right, you just have to be patient, it just takes time."
One day during Alex’s recovery, Pat read about TRIO in a newspaper. When Alex was healthy enough, they both got involved and became very active TRIO members; Alex was the Pittsburgh chapter president and board member for many years, and also on the Board of Directors for TRIO International. In TRIO, Alex and Pat found (and gave) the support and knowledge they had lacked when Alex had gone through his transplant.
“When these things happen, you want to know if what you’re experiencing is unique to you or common to everyone,” Pat says. “Now in the transplant group, we’re able to encourage new people, tell them their feelings are what everybody else has experienced and that they’ve survived.”
Alex enjoyed visiting new transplant patients and allaying their fears about the procedure. Tom Wilson briefly worked with Alex during their teaching days, but didn’t know him well until after his heart transplant in 1997. By then, Alex was a few years out from his own liver transplant and already part of TRIO. He visited Tom several times after Tom’s operation, which Tom says helped tremendously.
“I’d been ill after surgery…it took me about six months to recover,” Tom recalls. “He told me I would get well, that it’d just take time. And I did. I was very impressed with him--despite his own medical problems, he was very dedicated to TRIO.”
It was Alex’s influence that led Tom and his wife Judy to decide TRIO was “a very good organization to belong to;” they became, and still are, TRIO Pittsburgh members.
Alex’s skillful guidance at TRIO was an extension of many years’ experience as a guidance counselor. A lifelong educator, his longest tenure was at Avella High School, where he shaped students’ lives and careers for 31 years.
Alex had a knack for guiding young people, “an easy way of dealing with them,” says Ray Fioroni, former superintendent for Avella Area School District, who worked with Alex for many years.
“He was very capable,” Fioroni says. “He knew when to allow people to express themselves, rather than overpowering them” with his own opinions. Alex also had an ability to adapt to all situations, stepping into whatever role required of him at his small high school, be that acting principal, putting together the school schedule, or helping students with behavioral problems.
“He was the kind of fellow that was perfect for the small school,” says Fioroni. “If there was an emergency, he would be there.”
Alex was devoted to his job and his students, but he also had a vivid life outside of work. He was an active member of Church of the Covenant, where his son Randy was minister. He enjoyed musicals, the theater, the cinema. And then there were the nearly annual trips to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields, which were often taken with extended family. They would drive around the site leisurely, stop at the monuments, let the children run around and look at the educational displays.
They never got tired of it, Pat says.
Those close to Alex remember well his compassion and love of family.
“He was always friendly and kind, always laughing and sincere,” Tom says. “And he was real proud of his son and grandchildren.”
Pat echoes Tom’s words. “Alex was a kind and gentle person,” she says. “He loved getting together with our son and his family. Just being together, sitting on the deck in the summer, talking for hours. Those were the kinds of things that made Alex happy. His family came first in his life.”
Alex and Pat took their final battlefield trip together last summer, during which they rode an old-fashioned excursion train on the Strasburg Rail Road. The train looped out to a little town called Paradise in the countryside, then came back around again. What Pat remembers most about the ride is just how much she and Alex enjoyed each other’s company, completely relaxed and in the spirit of the ride, chatting and laughing.
Decades after he rolled tires down the hill from his childhood home, Alex Boyer still knew how to have fun.