Sunday March 31, 2013

WILLIAMSTOWN -- After 100 years, Foster Nystrom was ready for a party, and he got one.

"Thank you all for coming," Nystrom's voice boomed through the room as the festivities got rolling.

A resident at Sweet Brook in Williamstown for more than two years, Nystrom is recognized by the Berkshire County Veterans Association as the oldest living World War II veteran in the county.

After the war, he spent his life surrounded by artists and art as a museum director, and after his retirement as a painter.

In fact, he was awarded a Bronze Star for his artistry: After five fly-overs of Riva Ridge in Italy in 1945, he was able to create a three-dimensional sand table topographical map of the region from memory, which was used to plan and launch a successful attack on enemy troops in June of that year.

Berkshire County’s oldest WWII veteran, Foster Nystrom, laughs Saturday at his 100th birthday party at Sweet Brook retirement home in Williamstown.
Berkshire County’s oldest WWII veteran, Foster Nystrom, laughs Saturday at his 100th birthday party at Sweet Brook retirement home in Williamstown. (Scott Stafford / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

According to the original Bronze Star citation: "Working unusually long hours, [Nystrom] labored with uncanny accuracy to prepare model terrain features to scale, and making enlarged maps to accompany the sand table greatly contributing to the success of his unit's mission."

At the time, he was a U.S. Army master sergeant serving with the 10th Mountain Division.

Today, Nystrom is known for his razor-sharp wit, a brilliant twinkle in his eye, and for greeting Sweet Brook employees early in the morning as they arrive for work.

"He's also a terrible flirt," noted his youngest daughter, Joyce Powell, who traveled from her home in Maine to attend her father's party.

In talking about his military service, someone wondered if his work on Riva Ridge was the reason he was honored with a Bronze Star.

"I got it for something," Nystrom said, winking. "It might have been that."

Foster Hjalmar Nystrom was born in Waltham on March 29, 1913. He attended the Massachusetts College of Art and the Pratt Institute. He considers himself a watercolorist.

After the war, he started working as an illustrator for the Rust Craft Card Co. in Boston. For years he worked at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln as associate director and operated out of the museum's school, where he also taught watercolor classes for adults.

In the early 1970s, Nystrom retired and relocated to Cape Cod, where he was able to concentrate on his love of painting coastal scenes and New England landscapes. He started the Lower Cape School of Art in his studio. He also taught at the Cape Cod Conservatory of Art.

According to his children, following the death of their mother about 25 years ago, Nystrom lived on his own until he was 97. He was still driving until he was 96.

While on Cape Cod, as a hobby, he bought antique British motorcars, restored them and sold them.

He says his favorite car is the Austin-Healey.

"I used to have a barn full of antique cars," Nystrom said.

Nystrom's children and grandchildren were all there for the party.

"I think his secret to life is forgetting all the bad things," surmised Nystrom's son, Paul Nystrom of Ohio. "He used to do a lot of hiking and skiing. He got lots of exercise."

"And he can still remember amazing things, although he's not that good with names," noted his daughter, Cindy McFarland of Williamstown.

"We're lucky kids -- it's been a fun time having him around for so long," added his other daughter, Joyce Powell. "He makes me laugh every time I call him -- he always wants to make people laugh."

Nystrom said that after 100 years, "every day I feel 24 years old in here (tapping his forehead) -- no more, no less. I sleep well and I eat well."

And he has no illusions about his ability to thrive for so many years.

"There are very few of us very fortunate people left in the world today," he noted.

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6241.
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford