Teen describes growing up off the grid
BROOKLYN, Mich. — Noah Boyce didn’t grow up like a lot of kids his age.
There were no video games, no birthday parties, no Christmas presents and no Little League teams, he said.
Until two years ago, Noah, who’s now 19, spent most of his life with his parents, Brian and Marilyn Boyce; sisters Miriam and April; and brother Christopher on secluded farmland on Jefferson Road near Brooklyn, Mich.
Brian Boyce said in a November 2011 Citizen Patriot story that he had repudiated his citizenship in 1996, adding that he believed government should follow God’s law. His mistrust of the government became the way of life for his family, with none of the children having birth certificates, Social Security numbers or driver’s licenses, Noah said.
Brian Boyce also kept his children out of public schools, telling the Brooklyn Exponent newspaper in 2006 that “school is for fish.”
“It was a different life,” Noah said. “I had no friends my own age to grow up with, and I spent most of my time with my dad working on small engines and running my dad’s equipment.”
The Boyce family farm once was one of the largest and most prosperous farms in Columbia Township. For many years, Brian Boyce and his family lived with his father in a farmhouse that originally belonged to his grandfather.
Following a family dispute, Brian Boyce and his family moved out of the farmhouse and across the road about a quarter-mile back on 97 acres that was part of the farm.
“We were off the grid,” Noah said. “It was pretty simple and sometimes stressful.”
The family lived in an old Blue Bird RV bus that was hidden from the view of the road by a stand of overgrown brush and trees.
“It was like camping,” Noah said.
The family had solar panels and a gas-powered generator for electricity and wood heat, Noah said. They used an outhouse and washed their clothes in an old wringer washer that was powered by the generator, added his sister Miriam Boyce, 24, the oldest of the Boyce children.
“It was pretty primitive,” Miriam Boyce said. “It was kind of like living in the early 1900s. It wasn’t our choice, but we lived with our dad so we did as he told us.”
None of the Boyce children were ever sent to public school, Miriam Boyce said.
“I think the plan was to home-school, but sometimes the best-laid plans don’t happen,” she said.
Miriam Boyce learned to read on her own with the help of her great-grandmother and some old McGuffey Readers, she said.
The children, Miriam Boyce said, were told by Brian Boyce not to play outside during traditional school-day hours so they wouldn’t attract the attention of people who might call a truant officer. Noah said he and his siblings wanted to go to public school.
“People tried to get my dad to let us go to school, but my dad said he had his ways,” Noah said. “My dad said we couldn’t go to school for our own protection.”
“It was about animals, gardening and equipment,” Miriam Boyce said. “It was more like trade school than history or geometry. It was more old-fashioned.”
The children, Miriam said, either walked or rode their bikes into Brooklyn almost daily, mostly to go to the library.
“We did it to get away and have access to the outside world that we really weren’t a part of,” she said.
Their father did teach the children important life lessons, Miriam Boyce said.
“Our off-the-grid education made us what we are today with our manners and how to treat other people with kindness and respect,” she said.
Brian Boyce told the Citizen Patriot in 2011 that he supported his family by repairing cars, motorcycles and small engines and by living off the land.
“My dad can fix just about everything,” Noah said. “What people don’t know is that he is caring. He’ll fix a car and give it to someone who needs it.”
Around 2006, Brian Boyce began bringing his family to Heart O’ The Lakes United Brethren Church in Columbia Township.
“At first, the kids didn’t speak and wouldn’t make eye contact,” said Mary Oyler, of Brooklyn, who with her husband, Jim, and other members of the church have helped the Boyce children get the legal documents needed to start traditional lives.
Eventually, the children started coming to the Oylers to take showers and Mary Oyler said Miriam Boyce reached out to her for help.
Miriam Boyce moved into a Brooklyn apartment. When they turned 18, April and Christopher moved in with her, she said. Miriam Boyce has since passed her GED and is now working two part-time jobs and taking classes at Jackson College.
In 2011, Brian Boyce, his wife and Noah were the only ones still living on the property when Jackson County foreclosed on the land due to three years of delinquent taxes and evicted them.
“Nobody should pay to live on their own land,” Boyce said in a November 2011 Citizen Patriot article, adding that he just wanted to lead a quiet and undisturbed life on his land and that he sacrificed it out of principle.
“I’m the opposite from my dad,” Noah said. “He’s not going to change. He’s got his mind set. He dropped out of the system a long time ago and I think it gradually got worse.”
Because the family lived a secluded life and the children didn’t show up in a government database, it was easy for them to go unnoticed, said Dani Meier, a licensed psychotherapist who was a Jackson Public Schools social worker for 19 years and now is director of Jackson College’s Center for Student Success.
“They were not in places, such as a school, where people would have been alerted to their situation,” Meier said. “It’s likely that no one who did see them had any way of knowing they weren’t going to school or being home-schooled.”
“These kids didn’t fall through a crack, they fell into a canyon,” Jim Oyler agreed.
Noah now is getting reading, writing and language lessons at Jackson’s Reading Writing Connection.
As a nonprofit organization, the organization relies on donations and grants to purchase materials and pay instructors.
A committee of people not employed by the organization also awards scholarships, and Noah’s lessons, which cost about $2,800 a year, have been covered by scholarship for one year.
This scholarship, however, runs out in July and Jane Robinson, executive director, said there is a need to allocate funds that have been going toward Noah’s lessons to younger students on a waiting list. She hopes caring people and community organizations will be willing to donate to the Reading Writing Connection to keep Noah’s lessons going.
“I am so very, very, very proud of Noah,” Miriam Boyce said. “He’s come a long way and has grown up a lot in these last few years.”
Noah now also works two days a week at YMCA Storer Camps in Napoleon Township.
“I can help some with costs and that makes me feel a lot better,” he said. “Without a job, I wasn’t paying for anything. I’m a hard worker. I’m caring and I love to learn. I want to keep going to school.”
PHOTO: Noah Boyce works in the dishwashing area of the Malachi Dining Hall at Storer Camps in Napoleon Township, Mich. Until two years ago, Noah, who's now 19, spent most of his life with his parents, David Brian and Marilyn Boyce; sisters Miriam and April; and brother Christopher on secluded farmland on Jefferson Road near Brooklyn, Mich. (AP Photo/Jackson Citizen Patriot, J. Scott Park)