Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Remembering John Miller...

John Miller at Whitney School
in the early 1930's.
John Miller was the fifth of eleven children born to Pete and Dora Miller, and the last one born while the family was still living in Chicago.  He came into this world on June 27, 1917.  When he was about a year old – sometime in 1918 – the family moved to Watertown, South Dakota.  After about four years, they moved to Scottsbluff County in Nebraska, near Pete’s older sister, Eva Behm, and her family.

It was in the “valley” area of the Nebraska panhandle that John began school, and he shows up on the attendance rolls at the Spring Creek School in Scotts Bluff County.  He probably attended school for three or four years – before Pete and Dora made their final move, which took them northward to the Whitney area of Dawes County.  John continued school for a few years and even was awarded a perfect attendance certificate by his 6th Grade teacher, Eva Cunningham.  But within the next couple of years, John would drop out of school to help with family chores and work in farm fields around Whitney.

The Whitney years were the “growing up years” for John Miller.  In later life, he would recount a variety of incidents that reflected the active life of a Depression-era teenager.  From sneaking in to the Whitney movie theatre after hours to thread the projector and watch films – to tossing a goat into a local restaurant, there was no shortage of pranks.

Lettie Maiden and John Miller were
married in January of 1938.
Although there’s no certainty as to when they met, John Miller and Lettie Maiden probably got acquainted at one of the dances held on the Maiden place northeast of Chadron in the mid-1930’s.  John’s older sister, Marie, was married to Bill Derrick, a cousin to Lettie.  They shared a common grandmother, Dora Derrick Maiden, who lived on the Maiden homestead. 

Their subsequent courting led to a small marriage ceremony on January 13, 1938 in the Newland Baptist parsonage on Ann Street in Chadron.  Lettie’s sister, Nettie Maiden, attended the bride, while Art Gehrke was best man.  A newspaper account said that John was “well and favorably known in this vicinity.”  A wedding luncheon was served at the home of Lettie’s parents, Bill and Leota Maiden, before the couple set out for a short honeymoon in the Black Hills.

While Lettie was employed by Dr. C.E. Masters, a local optometrist, John took on a variety of jobs.  Farm hand, road construction, and filling station attendant were among many of his jobs.

“We picked up jobs doing whatever we could,” he said in later years, putting into context the rigors of trying to make a living during the difficult years during and following the Great Depression.

John and Lettie had three children:  John Elgar, born in October 1938; Linetha Faye, born in January 1941, and Larry Dean, born in June 1943.

By this time, John Miller was working for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad as a Machinist’s Helper.

When World War Two broke out, many area men were called to serve.  John Miller was on the list and scheduled to report for active service when the war ended in 1945.  Those orders were cancelled. 

With "Rusty" in 1960.
John continued his work at the C&NW roundhouse and eagerly took on correspondence courses and other training that would allow him to become a full-fledged machinist for the company.  He honed many skills while working for the railroad, including welding, and he also took on additional responsibility as a foreman.  He was an officer for the local chapter of the International Association of Machinists, an interesting role given his disdain for unions in later years.

Despite opportunities for further promotions – which would have required relocating to Rapid City – John chose to stay in Chadron, where his children had started school.  While there were brief forays into other opportunities – like part ownership of the 146 CafĂ© on Main Street in Chadron and doing contract work for the 1880 Train for tourists in the Black Hills – John remained with C&NW for more than 38 years, retiring in 1980.

Vacations were few and far between for this Miller family, but there was one trip to Yellowstone Park in about 1950.  Travel was not frequent for John and Lettie until all their kids were grown and gone – and until John retired from the railroad and Lettie from the U.S. Job Corp camp near Chadron, where she had worked for several years as a cook.

John Miller died on October 12, 1994 at the Chadron Community Hospital.  He had been in failing health the last few years of his life and was 77 years old at the time of his death.

Lettie Miller passed away just over three years later on January 28, 1998 in Chadron.  She was 77 years old.

The 50th wedding anniversary photo of John and Lettie Miller .
Taken in January 1988 - Chadron, Nebraska.  Behind Lettie and
John are their children:  John Elgar, Larry, and Linetha.
The children of John and Lettie Miller:   older son John and his wife Cheryl have lived in Lemon Grove, California, for many years;  their daughter Linetha and her husband Bruce are on a ranch outside Madill, Oklahoma; and younger son Larry and his wife Karen live in Spearfish, South Dakota.