Thursday, April 7, 2011

Remembering Jan Miller...

One of the faces missing from the Miller Reunion this summer will be cousin Jan Miller, who died seven years ago this month.

At this writing, we don’t know if any of Jan’s family will be attending our June reunion, but we hope they might be able to join us.  In any event, we thought it would be good to revisit a few memories and photos of this outstanding cousin. While other older family members likely have more vivid memories of Jan, let me offer a few observations.  

If ever there was a good example of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” we think Jan would be near the top of the list.

Friends and sisters-in-law
Fannie Miller & Lettie Miller
Jan was the only child of Fannie Miller, whose own life was cut short as the result of an automobile accident on U.S. Highway 20 just outside of Crawford, Nebraska, in September of 1937.  The injuries left her paralyzed and unable to care for her infant son, who would be raised in  Whitney, Nebraska, by his grandparents, Pete and Dora Miller

Fannie was hospitalized in Crawford – and later at Hot SpringsSouth Dakota.  There are few photos of Fannie Miller, but the ones we've found show a smiling young lady who was remembered by many as a very personable and outgoing person.  While she responded some to treatments over the 18 months after the accident, she would not survive.  She died at the Crawford Hospital in March of 1939, just a few weeks shy of her 20th birthday.

A young Jan Miller
Jan grew up in Whitney under the watchful eye and loving care of Dora and Pete, whom he would call “Mom and Dad.” 

By all accounts, Jan was a good student – and a rather popular one. He attended school in Whitney, but ended up completing his education at Chadron Prep.

But by the early 1950’s, Jan was ready to get out and experience the world.  And that he did!

He enlisted in the Army and was off to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he would attend jump school and become a paratrooper.

"Mom Miller" and Jan Miller
probably taken about 1957-58
Alas, we know little about his military assignments, but we recall that he once said he had been stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  Likely, that’s part of the reason he ended up living in Kentucky.

On May 19, 1956, he married Janette Haney, and they soon began their family.  Except for short times spent in Indiana and Pennsylvania, the state of Kentucky would be home for the Millers.

Both daughter Jan Rose and son Jerry Don were born in Hammond, Indiana – Jan Rose in 1957 and Jerry Don in 1960.   Younger daughter Joni Renee was born in 1964 in Princeton, Kentucky.

By the mid-1960’s, Jan and Janette Miller and their family were firmly ensconced in Eddyville, the county seat of Lyon County, Kentucky.

We recall visiting Jan and family in 1964 when we were traveling through on our way to a Navy base in Florida.  At that time, the Millers were living in a rental house on the edge of town, while their new home was being built.  Our visit was short – but very enjoyable.

It still brings a chuckle when I recall later telling a southern friend that I had visited a cousin in Eddyville, Kentucky.  This friend apparently knew that Eddyville was a well-known location across the region.  He grinned and asked what my cousin was “in for.”  It seems that Eddyville was – and is – home to the Kentucky State Penitentiary.

Jan shared stories with us about working in the mills around the region, but it wasn’t too much later that he changed careers and became an insurance man.  By all accounts a successful one.

Cute Hillary Chambers and
her grandpa, Jan Miller
Some 30 years later, in the 1990’s, we were on a business trip not far from Eddyville, so we rented a car and went to visit Jan and Janette, this time in that new home they had built in the 1960’s.  It was a delightful visit, and this time we were able to see their kids and some of their grandchildren, too.  We've added just a few photos from that visit in our Miller Gallery. It was clear to us that Jan’s life was built around his family.  It was a great visit.

Jan and Janette came back to Nebraska for the last Miller Reunion in 1988, a special treat for so many cousins, aunts, and uncles who’d not seen him for many years.  Many of them had never met Janette.    

Jan quit smoking in the mid-1990’s, but a variety of health issues began to plague him.  A trip to the doctor for sinus problems in 1999 resulted in the detection of a large tumor that could be removed only by a delicate surgery.  It was an unbelievably large 22-pound malignant tumor.  Unfortunately, it was not Jan's only bout with internal tumors.  Some time later, another tumor – about the size of a football – was removed.

Jan and Janette Miller
We visited with Jan by telephone a few times during this difficult period.  It was clear that his strength was sapped, but his spirits seemed high. 

At one point when his health issues had subsided a bit, Jan was well enough to travel back to Nebraska for a school reunion at the Chadron Prep School.  As we have occasion to visit Nebraska, we still have folks from around the Whitney area ask about Jan..

Despite a valiant fight, Jan Miller succumbed to his many health issues and died on April 22, 2004.  It was his mother’s birthday.