Thursday, June 23, 2011

Remembering Fred Miller...

Fred Miller was born near Bayard, Nebraska on June 29, 1923, the eighth child of Peter and Dora Miller.  With three older brothers aged 6, 10 and 12, there’s little doubt that young Fred quickly learned to be self-reliant.  Hand-me-down clothes were a way of life, and there surely were times when Fred had to defer to his older brothers.

But when it came to meal time, Fred recalled that no one in the family ever went hungry.

“We didn’t eat like kings.  We usually had pancakes for breakfast and some kind of cereal.  We had meat twice a week – maybe three times a week.  We had eggs….we always had milk.  We didn’t want for anything.  Maybe clothes sometimes.”

Most of Fred’s memories of growing up center around the Whitney area, to where the family moved in about 1927.

None of the Pete and Dora Miller family completed high school.  Fred went through the eighth grade before dropping out to help with chores, including the grueling task of thinning sugar beets – a task almost universally disliked by the people who had to do it.

But when the kids were of school age, getting them clothed and ready to go was a chore.   Fred remembers that each fall the family would place a catalogue order with Montgomery Ward or Sears – sometimes both.  Since neither Pete nor Dora could write in English, so it was usually older sister Marie’s job to complete the order form and send it off to the store.  A large shipment would usually arrive just about the time school started each year.

Of course, having clothes was no guarantee that the kids would show up at school.  Hiding in the lumber at the Whitney lumberyard was sometimes a favorite alternative to sitting in a desk at school for Fred and his buddies.  When the family lived outside of Whitney, the kids would have to carry their lunches to schoolhouses in the country.  Potatoes were a favorite fare.

Marjorie Vogt, a first grade teacher, would have one of the boys put more coal in the stove, placing the potato in the ash pan to bake the potato.  After about an hour, they’d wipe off the ashes, wash the potato with some water, and then enjoy a baked or mashed potato.

Grandpa “Pete” Miller subscribed for many years to a German language newspaper, the Detroit Free Press.  When the newspaper discontinued its German language edition, he bought a German Bible.

“It was huge,” Fred said, “and he would read that Bible every night.”

Fred remembered that when the Miller children were small, the family did not often attend church.   Without knowing what day it was, he’d sometimes find himself at the Stone family house up near the school.

Charlotte Flock marred Fred Miller in 1942.
“They’d be getting ready to go to church, so Dolly Stone would ask, ‘You want to go to church with Bill?'   I’d say sure, so I’d go to church with them.”

Responding to the suggestion that Pete Miller was strong willed and stern -- and that Dora Miller was far more reserved and quiet, Fred Miller laughed and responded, “Oh, no.  I’d much rather have taken a beating from dad than mom!”

Charlotte Flock was born in the small eastern Nebraska community of Loretto.   Her family also lived in Bartlett and Spaulding before moving to Chadron, where she met Fred Miller in 1941. 

Early in their courtship, Fred and Charlotte – like all Americans – were rocked by the news on December 7, 1941 that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  The United States went to war.

Fred and Charlotte were married in Chadron on June 2, 1942.  Among other places, they lived in Chadron for a time, and Fred remembers working at the old Chadron Bakery that was then located on West Second Street.  Fred and Charlotte lived upstairs, where the rising heat from the bakery ovens kept their apartment toasty warm.  Fuel oil – like many other items – was hard to come by in those war years.

In April of 1943, as the United States continued its buildup of forces, Fred Miller – like hundreds of thousands of other young men – found himself entering service.  He was sworn in to the Army Air Corps at Fort Logan, just outside Denver, Colorado, on April 8, 1943. 

Just a few months later, on July 24, Fred and Charlotte’s first child, Jean, was born in Chadron.

In addition to Fort Logan, Fred was assigned to military installations at Kearns, Utah; Indianapolis, Indiana; Fresno and Glendale, California; Ephrata and Moses Lake, Washington; and March Field, California, where he was discharged on Armistice Day 1945. 

Returning to Dawes County at war’s end, Fred and his growing family lived in Chadron, and he took a job at the Chadron bakery until there was a “blowup.”     Fred decided to move to Washington, where Charlotte’s sister and family lived.  He would pick apples, which he did for about a month, and then a job opened up in Metaline Falls.  While daughter Jean was born in Nebraska, Fred and Charlotte's other children were all born in Washington.  Pete was born in Wenatchee in 1945; Wayne in Ione in 1948; and Charlie Bob in Ione in 1950.

While Fred held a variety of jobs over the years – including working in the apple orchards in the region – most of his working career was spent at the cement plant in Metaline Falls.  He began on May 5, 1949 and remained until there more than 36 years, retiring on June 29, 1985.

In retirement, Fred enjoyed camping and spending time with his kids and grandchildren, most of whom lived fairly close.  He enjoyed fairly good health right up until his death on December 29, 2005 following a heart attack.

Charlotte Miller continues to live in their home overlooking the beautiful Pend Oreille River in Metaline Falls, Washington, where she and Fred raised their family. 

Their children help Fred and Charlotte Miller celebrate their 60th anniversary in 2002.
L-R: Pete Miller, Charlie Miller, Jean (Miller) Roark, Fred & Charlotte, and Wayne Miller.
Daughter Jean married David Roark, and they live in Spokane, where they owned and operated a grocery store until their retirement several years ago.  Their children included Kevin, Kerry and Robert.  The store is still in the family, operated mainly by two of their sons.  David works 2 days a week and fills in when needed and Jean still keeps the books.

Son Pete married Judy Newman and they remained in Metaline Falls, where Pete also worked for the cement plant for many years.  When the plant closed, he took a job at the nearby power dam operated by the county.  Pete and Judy have two children, Paul and Rhonda.

Second son Wayne Miller enlisted in the Air Force, and his tour of duty took him to a variety of places, including an overseas assignment in Germany for 7 years.  He married Christina Schutte, and they have two children, Christopher and Charlotte.  After he retired from the military, Wayne and his family returned to the eastern Washington area, and he works for the U.S. Post Office in Colville, WA.

The youngest in Fred and Charlotte’s family is Charles Robert (Charlie Bob), who also worked at the cement plant in Metaline Falls for many years.  He married Linda Wallace, and they have two children, Chad Donald and Amie Lavone. Linda passed away in July of 2010.  Charlie lives in Ione.