A Spirit of Adventure

Beryl Dillman’s Legacy of Love

By Skyla Patton

Jan 7, 2022
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

Beryl Dillman, who recently celebrated his 103rd birthday in Oct., knows exactly where he wants to go, and he’s hoping to make it there sooner rather than later.

“Australia,” said Dillman. “I’d like to go to Australia. I’ve been to a lot of places but never quite made it over that far.”

Dillman sits in a lounged recliner of his daughter's living room in Eugene, and sets his faded Illinois hat on the handle of his walker—after asking if it was alright he takes it off, to be polite. His snow-white hair is combed neatly to the side, which he occasionally checks to make sure it’s in place. When Dillman smiles, his grin reaches each ear.

“I’ve been several times to Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, Moscow and Japan… I even went to Israel one time,” said Dillman, listing just a few of his pre-pandemic escapades. “East, West, as far North as the Arctic… I’ve traveled in most directions you can travel.”

Born in 1918, Dillman said he has always loved exploring, and shared the passion with everyone in his life. Even after reaching the major milestone of a century in age, Dillman didn’t stop traveling until the pandemic put a forceful stop to his long-distance adventures in early 2020.

A study produced by the Global Coalition on Aging in 2016 showed that travel can help prevent and aid issues in seniors such as depression, heart disease and even dementia. A similar study from the AARP reported better emotional and physical health in older generations who travel often for leisure, as well as improved relationships.

“I’ve got good genes, too,” said Dillman, whose father lived to be 89, his mother 93. “I’m fortunate to be born into the life that I was.”

Dillman and his first wife, Hazel, spent most of their time traveling quite literally around the globe outside of their time spent working as educators. After Hazel passed away, Dillman reconnected in his ‘70s with an old college friend—Grace, who was also widowed—who would later become his second wife prior to her passing less than a decade ago.

“I’ve learned a lot of history from him and his travels,” said Ruth Sturges, Dillman’s daughter. Sturges brought out a thick manila envelope and spilled the contents of it onto the dark wood table in her dining room; pages after pages of itineraries, notes and travel plans, down to the day.

“I have a few file folders full of these. We got one about every six months with all the details of whatever trip they were getting ready to go on,” said Sturges, her smile mirroring her fathers as she flipped through the papers. Each one is dated, at least a full page long—most more than that and stapled together—and walks through travel plans, contact information and where to get a hold of the couple on their adventure.

Since March of 2020, Dillman had been confined to his home during quarantine. “It was tough at first because I was so used to going wherever I wanted to go,” said Dillman.

Dillman said he appreciated how hard the people around him worked to keep everyone safe, and also pointed out that this wasn’t his first experience with a pandemic. He was a high school teacher when polio ravaged the United States; several of his students at the time contracted the disease.

Once fully vaccinated, Dillman has again enjoyed daily adventures with Sturges, who also lives in Eugene, and even celebrated his most recent birthday with a small family gathering in Washington.

“It’s nice to just drive around and get out of the house,” said Sturges. “We like to get an ice cream or a snack and check out the neighborhoods or go on walks around the park and people watch.” Dillman, who voluntarily gave up his driver’s license at the age of 99, especially loves the holiday season when yards are adorned with Christmas lights and other decorations.

During his time as an educator, Dillman worked with the Church of Nazarene and orchestrated a multitude of trips to Europe for college students where they were able to travel and gain credits for school at the same time. He finally retired in the late nineties after decades of teaching—because it was getting in the way of his travels.

“Dad told me one day that they had put him on the schedule for a class once a week, and that he just had too many places to go and things he wanted to do,” said Sturges. “It was time to quit and really go see the world.”

Dillman has visited just about every continent, short of Australia, even once visiting the North Pole, although it’s not quite like what the movies make it seem like, according to Dillman. Flying is a personal favorite of his when it comes to getting around.

“I’ve been in about every type of plane there is,” said Dillman. His first plane ride, in 1936, was in a two-seater open-air cockpit that Dillman referred to as a “crop duster.”

“It cost a dollar, and the pilot would take you up for a few minutes and fly you around.” The dollar ticket was equal to a day of work for Dillman: he earned 10 cents an hour, full time, at a meat market. 

Both Sturges and Dillman hope to get back to their regularly scheduled programming of frequent travels and trips to see family soon. Dillman has two daughters, Ruth and her sister Carolyn, who unexpectedly passed away several years back. From his two daughters, Dillman proudly boasts six grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

“Weddings, funerals, graduations, retirement parties, all of it. We were flying all over the country before lockdown. He’s always been the linchpin that was always showing up for people’s events and everyone just loves it,” said Sturges. “And he’s an exceptional guest. Very polite.”

While Australia may be on the back burner for now with travel restrictions in mind, Dillman hopes to at least visit family again soon, and plans to visit a granddaughter in Denver, Colorado for his next big trip.

Beryl Dillman and his daughter Ruth Sturges enjoy morning coffee together at Sturges’ home in Eugene, OR. Dillman lives in an assisted living home, Sheldon Park, but spends most of his days with Sturges going on drives and exploring the area.