By ELIDA BYARD
Special to the Eagle
Audrey Beard never really fit the traditional stereotypes, for a student, employee, soldier, wife, mother, grandmother, as a senior citizen, or even as a handicapped person. She always did it her way, and will be lovingly remembered for her strength, bravery, love, wonderful giving heart and her eccentricities.
Long-time islander Audrey Beard
She started life, Nov. 25, 1923, as Audrey Elaine Campbell, daughter of Elida Flyberg and Ronald F Campbell, in Milwaukee, Wis. Most of her fondest memories were of being a "tomboy," running wild, hunting, fishing and exploring with her brother Donald and her cousins, on her grandmother's farm in Minnesota. She carried her love of animals back to Milwaukee with her and raised white rats at home. Being Audrey, she felt it only right to share the rats with her fellow high school students, so she released nine of them in the balcony of the auditorium during a school program.
With the men joining the military for World War II and the need for women to take over many hard labor jobs, Audrey "the Riveter" appeared. But, of course, she got in trouble with the other workers, working too hard and over-producing so that she interfered in the standard quota system.
On Nov. 27, 1943 (age 20), she enlisted in the Army of the United States, Women's Army Corp, USAFFE (United States Army Forces - Far East). As one of the first women to receive firearm training, she was featured on a recruitment poster. She served 15 months in the Astatic-Pacific Theater, assisting in the Philippine Liberation in the Allied Powers' Translation and Interpretation Section. Along with normal captured documents, the Japanese soldiers frequently kept diaries of all their actions. Audrey was one of a group of women in the Philippines who worked to restore these documents seized from Japanese soldiers captured or killed during the war. These documents could then be translated for the intelligence information they contained.
She met Pfc. Calvin C. Beard when they were both on a brief military leave fishing off of Australia. They fell in love and were married Aug. 30, 1945, in Manila. The seamstress for future First Lady Mamie Eisenhower sewed Audrey's wedding gown out of parachute silk. The Eisenhowers were instrumental in providing a honeymoon cottage for them. They had to carry rifles and drive the Jeep through what was later found to be, mine field areas to get to the cottage.
After the war they made their home in the Highspire/Harrisburg area of Pennsylvania. However, by the time daughter Elida Beard (Byard) arrived, Audrey had talked Calvin into buying a farm in the Mt. Pleasant area. While Calvin worked at the Mechanicsburg Navy Depot, Audrey grew fruits and vegetables, which she drove to the city to sell. By 1958 when Peggy Lee Beard (McTeague) was born, Audrey had a regular route of customers, though she also worked at the Navy Depot.
Audrey passed her love of animals and the out of doors to both her daughters. Hand crafting a canvas canoe, she carried it on top of a VW bus she set up for camping. In 1961 she headed off to spend the summer exploring Canada. Traveling on the Trans-Canada Highway while it was still under construction, she would pull off to the side, unload the canoe and load up Elida (age 8) and Peggy (age 3) to go exploring, fishing and camping. Peggy learned to catch Northern Pike that were longer then she was and Elida learned to share the wine berry patches with the local bears.
The summer of 1969, she changed to a woodywagon pulling a camper to drive across the USA, visiting friends and relatives or just camping where convenient. Neil Armstrong's moon walk was watched on a gas station's TV. There was a donkey assisted camping trip into Yellowstone, panning for gold in California and scuba diving for abalone in Monterrey Bay. Elida was volunteering at a zoo by then, so by the end of the trip Audrey was happily driving a vehicle full of two badgers, a magpie, two tortoises and a monkey named "Calvin" that considered Peggy his mother. In 1989, Audrey's husband Calvin died and grandson George Anthony Byard was born. Audrey attended the birth, taking pictures of George's first moments of life.
Audrey always loved Florida so after selling her Pennsylvania house, she stayed part of the year in Pennsylvania with Elida and part of the Year in Florida with Peggy.
When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, she wasted no time in volunteering to help. At age 69 she helped with the cleanup and rebuilding, including climbing up on the roofs to hammer on new shingles.
Soon the lure of fossiling, fishing and beach combing won out and Audrey made Florida her full-time home. She followed Peggy's footsteps and became a Matlacha Hooker, proudly serving in many of the Hooker's civic projects - especially the fishing tournament benefiting the Pine Island Schools, the activity, which is the origination of the "Hookers" name.
Even though she had serious rheumatoid and osteo arthritis, Audrey didn't slow down in her 70s. She would drive cross country on her own to Wisconsin to visit her brother and his family. She was very active in both the Lee County and the Southwest Florida Fossil Clubs, encouraging her family's interest in finding the historic treasures that abound in Florida. Of course, she had to add to her experiences, cruising, diving, swimming with sting rays, and parasailing.
In 1999, triple bypass heart surgery and several mini strokes slowed her down briefly. But it was a gall bladder infection that caused Audrey to lose her left leg in 2004. She successfully fought a staph infection in her left knee replacement, but when the pseudomonas infection migrated to the knee it was time to amputate. Of course, she did it her way, removing her teeth and making "Popeye" faces for the doctor, immediately before the surgery. She even tried to convince him to change her feet around while he was at it, because her left foot had less arthritis then the right.
So at 80, Audrey changed her main means of transportation to an electric wheel chair. This didn't slow her down either; she became a common sight to the residents, bikers and visitors of Matlacha as she zoomed around town, wearing a shark tooth covered hat and checking all the new land-fill piles for fossils. She loved attending events at Peggy's WildChild Art Gallery. For Halloween she covered her prosthesis and her leg stump with splatters of red paint and carried around her bloody "snack" while wearing a mask with blood dripping fangs. She attended Dragon-Con enjoying time with Elida and George along with Star-Trek Klingons and the other wild wonderful creatures that could be found there.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars gave Audrey lots of great buddies and the chance to share memories and experiences. Pine Island Community Church provided Audrey with the opportunity to share her love of God and fellowship with others. She had a real skill at making friends and adopting people into her "family." She had "family" all over the USA from Florida to Pennsylvania, Maine, Wisconsin, California and many points in between. Audrey loved to say that she would "remember you in my will. Of course, all I have is good will " Then she would smile.
Audrey Beard quietly left this life Aug. 26. 2012, and joined Jesus. There will be a celebration of her life on today, Sept. 5, at 6 p.m. at Pine Island Community Church, 5320 Doug Taylor Circle, in St. James City.
All are invited to share their memories, the VA memorial, Pastor Heidi's service, live music, love and laughter. You are encouraged to bring a dish to share and we will celebrate a dinner together.
Instead of flowers donations may be made to VFW Post #8463, phone 542-8463.