Thursday, May 19, 2011

Remembering Marie...eldest child of Pete & Dora Miller

Marie Sophie Miller was born just a week before Christmas 1909 in Longmont, Colorado, to Pete and Dora Miller.  Pete was 22 years old, and Dora was less than three weeks from her 18th birthday.  For the Millers, it must’ve been a joyous occasion – the birth of their first child!

More problematic for Pete and Dora was the matter of making a living that could sustain the young couple and their new baby.  Certainly, there was the sugar beet industry in and around Longmont, a packing plant, and a variety of manual labor jobs.  Undoubtedly,  Pete Miller tried his hand at many of them.

Miller home at 4504 N.
Kasson Way in Chicago
However, it wasn’t long before the wanderlust that had drawn Pete and Dora to America began working on them.  Sometime in February of 1910, Pete and Dora moved the family to Chicago, leaving behind Dora's father, Conrad Eckerdt, and the stepmother with whom Dora never got along.   Marie was less than two months old when the family went to Chicago.  It was there that Marie started school, probably in the near northside ethnic neighborhood that was heavily populated with German-Russians.   Marie – some 60 years later – remembered that she and her half-brother Alex attended school in a “large school building with three floors and a basement,” not far from their house.

She also remembered some of the social life of the neighborhood.  Even their home on Kasson Way in Chicago was vivid in her memory, and she became very excited when shown a picture of the house, looking remarkably the same, more than six decades later.

“We had to play inside the fence…there was a store there on the corner.  And I had to go there every day to get grandma and grandpa’s German newspaper, and sometimes they’d give me a penny and I’d get a penny ice cream cone or a penny’s worth of candy!”

Dora Miller  is standing at left in back; Marie
is next to her with a bow in her hair.
“There’d sometimes be three, four, or five families; we’d go from our home to visit other people’s homes.  We’d get there and the men folks would play cards and the women folks would just visit.  Or dad would play the accordion – he played the accordion.  And then they’d get together and they’d dance.”

But the time in school at Chicago didn’t last, as Pete and Dora packed up their belongings and five children and migrated to Watertown, South Dakota, where the sugar beet company gave them jobs.  That was in about 1918 – near the end of World War I.  Marie was eight years old when they moved.  In a short three or four years, the family would move again – settling finally in the panhandle of Nebraska.

Marie was almost a teenager by the time the family arrived in the North Platte Valley, a  region inhabited by lots of other German Russians.  There is no evidence, however, that Marie graduated from school before the family moved to Whitney in 1927, when she was almost 18 years old – a time when most young persons would be finishing their schooling.

The Derrick family had found their way to Nebraska sometime around the beginning of the 20th Century after living in Illinois and Wisconsin.  Bill Derrick was born in Chadron on 18 December 1902.  He was still in the region by the time the Millers arrived in 1927.

Bill’s grandfather, John C. Derrick, led a very colorful life.  Probably born in Delpht, Holland, he was married three times and raised nine children in places as diverse as Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri.   The two children with his second wife were Ernest Walter – Bill Derrick’s father – and Dora Ellen, who married William H. Maiden.  This led to the interesting double relationship between Bill Derrick and Lettie Maiden.  They were not only cousins, but when Bill married Marie Miller and Lettie married John Miller, they also became brother/sister-in-laws.   In the process of collecting information about the Miller and Maiden families, we’ve collected many photographs and considerable information about the Derrick family, much it assembled by Joseph William Derrick, a half first cousin to Bill Derrick.

Bill Derrick’s father, Ernest Walter, was also married three times.  As fate would have it, his first bride was a maiden – Sara Jane, who was a first cousin once removed to William H. Maiden.  On June 13, 1900, Ernest Walter married Mary Eva (Mamie) O’Leary in Long Pine, Nebraska.  By the late 1920s, Joe and Mamie Derrick owned a café in Whitney.  It’s probably there that Marie Miller and Bill Derrick first became acquainted in about 1929.  In fact, Dick Derrick remembers his mother saying that she worked in the café for a while.

Dick Derrick with parents Bill and Marie.
Likely taken in about 1946 or 1947.
The Miller family had lived in Whitney about three years, when – on August 30, 1930 – Marie Miller and Bill Derrick were married in Whitney.  Not only did Bill and Marie “share” a number of relatives, they also shared a common birthday – December 18.

On May 31, 1931, their first child was born.  Richard Warren Derrick was born in Whitney, where he attended school until enrolling at Chadron Prep where he started high school.  However, before he graduated, he enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps and was shipped out for basic training.  It was only a few months later that the Marine Corps found out that he wasn’t old enough to serve in the Marines, and he was sent back home.

Shirley Ann Derrick
A second child was born to Bill and Marie Derrick on January 18, 1941.  Shirley Ann Derrick was the only daughter – and was about 10 years younger than her brother.  Tragedy struck on June 12, 1949 when Shirley and one of her neighborhood pals, Sandy Rankin, were swimming at Whitney Lake.  Both of the children drowned in one of the worst such incidences at the lake.  Shirley was just eight years old.

Dick remained in the Chadron area and went to work for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad at about the time his father was retiring.  He married Kathleen Higgins in 1954.  They raised three children:  Debra Dianne, born in 1955; Richard Walter, born in 1958; and Dora Dionne, born in 1971.

In July of 1968, Dick and Kathy Derrick  moved to Alaska where he went to work for the Alaskan Railroad.  It was the beginning of a lifelong change in the Derrick family.  Their ties to the 49th state became stronger when Debra married Jack Marsh and they raised their family in Alaska

Bill and Marie Derrick - March 1979
Even Bill and Marie Derrick – not able to do a lot of traveling –  made the trek to Alaska twice to visit their son and his growing family.

After Kathy Derrick was diagnosed with multiple scleroris, she and Dick moved back to Nebraska in 1983.  They had lived in Alaska for some 15 years.  It was a God-send to Bill and Marie – then well into their 70s and less able to get around.  Son Dick would run them to Chadron or Crawford, as might be needed, for shopping or a doctor’s appointment.  Too, they were able to visit and provide some comfort to Kathy, as her condition continued to deteriorate. 

In December of 1991, when Bill was 88 and Marie 81 years old, they were interviewed by Omaha World-Herald reporter Gabriella Stern for a story she was writing about the problems of elderly citizens in rural areas of Nebraska.  The poignant article touched upon the plight of several representative senior citizens.  The Derricks told of the isolation that comes with being unable to get out of the house on their own – and how that lack of independence contributed to making them old.  The story and their picture was published on Sunday, February 24, 1991

Just over a year later, on April 2, 1992, Bill Derrick passed away in Chadron.  He was 89 years old.  Less than a year after that, on February 25, 1993, Marie Derrick died at the age of 83.

In December 2001, Kathleen Derrick passed away.

Nearly three years later, in July 2004,  Dick Derrick – son of Bill and Marie Derrick, and husband of Kathy Higgins Derrick – died at his home in Whitney.

You'll find more photos of the Marie Derrick family in our Miller Gallery.