Paul Miller, who was my late mother’s eldest surviving first-cousin, died earlier this week at age 98 (his funeral will be at 1 p.m. Friday at First Baptist Church here). Because of a big and supportive family and an excellent hospice program, he was able to remain at home in Lacona until very near the end. We should all be so fortunate.
He also was an amazing guy who I didn’t know well enough to characterize --- although my parents did --- but these paragraphs from his obituary do a good job:
Paul was born December 27, 1912 near Carson, Iowa, to Clair and Vesta (Brenaman) Miller. He attended country schools and graduated from Chariton High School in 1931. Paul traveled the country as a hobo, riding trains to where there was work. He worked the orchards in California, gold mines in Colorado, a bakery in Oregon and the wheat harvest in the Great Plains.
On March 15, 1934, he married Veda Bingham. They were blessed with six children: Harry, Melvin, Colene, Roberta, Joe, and John; and with nearly 75 years of marriage. Paul was a wonderful, loving husband to Veda and especially provided loving care to her in their later years.
Paul was very resourceful and could do, fix, or engineer just about anything. He farmed, drove a truck for Dico, and worked for the Co-op before working and retiring from Johnson Machine Works. Paul was Lacona’s first school bus driver and after retiring returned to driving the bus for several years. He also was the Mayor of Lacona for many years.
Paul was a faithful church member and served the Lord in many ways. He taught Sunday school for many years and on most Sundays Veda and Paul had their entire family plus invited different preachers and missionaries to their home for dinner. Paul was a man of many talents including being an expert quilt and blanket maker, making over 200 blankets. He enjoyed fishing, taking his grandchildren fishing, and getting his children to take him fishing.
My uncles, Joe and Owen Miller, were a little older --- but like Paul traveled widely as young men during tough economic times in the 1930s to find work in the wheat fields of the Plains and to any other place where it was available. Joe eventually settled down to build highways in Colorado and Owen, after serving in the U.S. Cavalry and work as a trapper and cowboy in the West, on a ranch in Wyoming. My youngest uncle, Richard, found work in the steel mills of Detroit and went on to serve during World War II.
They were part of an amazing generation who coped with economic adversity in ways I’m not sure any of us are up to nowadays.
Although Paul came home to raise his family, the others were part of a diaspora that scattered many rural families in many parts of the country during what we now call the Great Depression and during the great war that followed it.
For the most part, they did not complain and emerged stronger. We’ll not see their like again, I expect.
This photo of all the Miller first-cousins then alive, including Paul, taken during a family reunion on Aug. 22, 1924, their grandmother’s birthday, amazes me every time I look at it. Two of the grandchildren of Joseph Cyrus and Mary Elizabeth (Clair) Miller, married in Lucas County during 1875, had died young and four had not yet been born when it was taken. Juanita Brenaman, Esther Belle Miller, Warren Miller and Elizabeth Miller came along later, but the rest are here.
Mary Elizabeth had raised her eight children alone on an English Township farm after Cyrus died at age 42 in 1895. All of the children married in Lucas County and all raised their families here. Such things just don’t happen in this day and age.
The grandchildren are (first row from left) Ray Mason, Lowell Dachenbach, Pearl Abrahamson holding Glenn Abrahamson, Richard Miller (my uncle), Earnest Miller, Raymond Taylor, Willa Brenaman, Wanda Brenaman, Marie Taylor and Velma Miller.
Second row from left, James Miller, Paul Miller, Wilma Miller, Lola Dachenbach, Reefa Miller Myers (my mother) and Lavon Abrahamson.
Third row from left, Eleanor Mason, Mary Abrahamson, Mae Miller Gibbany (my aunt), Ila Dachenbach, Marjorie Taylor, Evelyn Abrahamson, Mary Ellen Miller Krutsinger (my aunt), Fred Taylor, Merlon Brenaman and Warren Dachenbach.