Eulogy for Ruth L. Miller
April 30, 2016
by Rev. John Partridge
Every life has a story. And when I stand in the front of a group of people at the end of someone’s life, I try to tell their story. To be honest, there are times when it’s easier than others but telling the story of Ruth Lovina Miller is only difficult in the sense that I have more stories than I can use, and even if I tell a few of them, you might accuse me of making Ruth sound like a superhero. It is not without reason that Tom Brokaw referred to our parents as our “greatest generation.” In recent years we have watched people like Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray do so many things at once that it makes us tired just watching them. But the truth is that people like Ruth Miller make Martha Stewart look a little lazy. And if you had ever asked Ruth about it, she probably wouldn’t have found anything in her life to be particularly remarkable.
Ruth Allen was born into a Mennonite family in 1922 and was eventually one of seven children. As such, each of the children had responsibilities in the life of the family and one of Ruth’s was to do the dishes. That doesn’t immediately jump out as anything extraordinary except that one day each week was her mother’s baking day. On that day, Ruth’s mother would bake… all day long. She would bake bread, or sweets, or anything that they might need for the entire week. She baked one thing after another all day long. Few if any of the dishes were used more than once, and none of them had been rinsed and so all of them had hard crusts of one sort or another forming on them. And when Ruth came home from school, it was her job to do all of the dishes that had piled up.
Ruth’s father was a bricklayer, but with the coming of the Great Depression, like many others he had a hard time finding work, and so to feed his family, they sold their home and bought a farm in Perry. Ruth was always smart. When she attended Louisville High School she earned a college scholarship but decided that instead of pursuing her dream of going to college, she would stay at home and help to care for her father who was losing his battle to terminal cancer. Ruth also wanted to do something nice for her siblings, and so she would occasionally make brownies for them. But to be sure that her mother didn’t give them to someone else, after Ruth made the brownies, she would wash all the dishes, divide up the brownies, wrap them, and hide them in the dressers of her brothers’ and sisters’ bedrooms.
Ruth always felt very strongly about family. In fact, her mother started the Allen Family reunion and later caring for that reunion, and making sure that it happened every year on the 3rd Saturday of July became Ruth’s responsibility. There were some years when they were afraid that the whole thing might wither away, but it always happened. Of course, in recent months Ruth was worried that the reunion might not survive her passing, but her children and grandchildren are already at work making sure that it continues. In fact, the pavilion at Baylor Beach has already been reserved, and paid for, for the next two years.
In addition to the summer reunion, Ruth and her siblings took turns hosting a Christmas dinner celebration. In this way the entire Allen family got together two times every year until the year 2000. For Ruth, family was always an important priority.
Not long after her high school graduation, Ruth married Joseph D. Miller (who was always called Joe). Joe had been raised Amish and was a long distance truck driver. At first, the Mennonite preacher at Ruth’s church refused to marry them. Not because Joe was Amish, but because he smoked. But Ruth wasn’t so easily put off. If her pastor wouldn’t marry her, she would ask his boss. And so Ruth and Joe were married in her home church but what we would describe in our church as the District Superintendent
Ruth and Joe started attending Trinity Church in 1947 while the church was still worshiping at the Genoa schoolhouse. They chose Trinity because, at the time, the church had a class for young married couples, and they were looking for something like that. Eventually, they would raise all of three of their children, Jim, Kathleen, and Ken, here at Trinity church.
They bought a basement house together, lived there, and started their family there for six years before they were able to take out a loan and build a house on top of the basement. Ruth was a stay at home mom until the kids were all old enough for school, and then, to help make ends meet, she began to clean houses in Canton while the kids were in school. Now, at first, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but remember that Ruth didn’t drive. And so, every day, Ruth would get the kids off to school, walk two miles to Lincolnway where she could get a bus into Canton, then typically several more busses to the houses where she cleaned, then back to Perry, and walk two miles home, all before the kids got home from school. Every day.
Finally, about the time that her son Jim was almost old enough to drive, Ruth decided that there was no way she would let him drive before she did. And so she got her driver’s license first. But even before that, when Kathleen was only five years old, and while she was working days cleaning houses, Ruth started back to school. She started in a special night school that was a wartime program to train teachers because so many school teachers and so many young men who might have become school teachers, were all being drafted into the military and going off to war. Night school turned into summer school and, after two years, Ruth got a “cadet certificate” that allowed her to teach for four years before it had to be renewed. But just like she did when Jim was ready to drive, Ruth made a decision. She told everyone that before her certificate expired, she would earn her degree and her teaching certificate. And she did. She graduated from Kent State in 1964… the same year that Jim did and she taught until 1985 with a Master’s Degree from Akron University thrown in along the way. We aren’t exactly sure of the math since she started teaching before she graduated, but that means that Ruth taught for somewhere between 23 and 25 years.
In 1969, only a few years after Ruth graduated from college, Ruth lost Joe, the love of her life. But with the kids all older, and now armed with her degree and teaching certificate, Ruth was equipped to survive on her own. And she did a lot better than just survive. Since Jim earned a commission in the military upon his graduation from Kent State, he travelled the world at his various duty assignments. And each time he moved, Ruth went to visit. And that, in turn, got her started travelling everywhere. Ruth travelled all over the United States, Canada and Europe often using Jim’s house as a base of operations while she traveled. On top of that, Ruth became the lay delegate from Trinity Church to our Annual Conference at Lakeside, Ohio for many years. While she was doing all of those other things, she was also active in everything at church. She was in the women’s group, and the sewing group, and she was also active with her support of the Canton Symphony, the Perry History Club, and the monthly meetings of the Perry Book Club even up to just a few months ago. On top of all that, since 1985 Ruth has been going to her water aerobics class every week despite the fact that she has always been a non-swimmer who was afraid of the water. She had a friend that picked her up every week and she only stopped going last year because after thirty years the Myers Lake YMCA stopped having that class.
And somehow, as if all of that wasn’t enough, Ruth also supported all of her kids. Ruth made almost all of the clothes that Kathleen wore, and when she got too old for that, Ruth made clothes for her grandchildren. Kathleen said that even though she might not have had as many dolls as some of the other kids, she, and later her kids, was the only one who had doll clothes that matched her own outfits. Ruth made everything. Ruth even made the wedding dresses for many of her family by mixing and matching parts from different patters that the brides would pick our at the pattern store. Some of the in-laws were worried that a homemade wedding dress would be too simple or too plain, but they were all blown away by Ruth’s handiwork. One dress in particular was covered in cloth roses, and each rose was lovingly cut, petal by petal, sewn together, placed on the dress, and decorated with beads.
There are so many stories that I just don’t have time to tell you. There’s the story of how Kathleen forgot the ivory rose, necklace, and earrings that she wanted to wear for her wedding. Joe, being the good father, went home to get them, but all Ruth could do was worry that he would get stuck on the other side of the railroad tracks by a train and be late for the wedding. Or how Ruth taught everyone to clean, by regular inspections, and re-cleaning until the job met her exacting standards. Or how she taught her family to save money by making their own cleaning supplies instead of buying all the expensive stuff that the commercials try to convince you to buy. Or the story of how she managed to leave a homemade banana bread on the piano bench for our organist, Janet, every Christmas without ever being seen doing it. Or the punchbowl story, and so many more.
When Kathleen and her family were driven out of their home by carbon monoxide, they lived with Ruth for a while and then, more than ever, she became like an extra parent. Ruth was very conservative but always available to help whoever needed it. She freely gave of herself, of her time, her money, and whatever else was needed. She was definitely a student from the “old school” and she was never afraid to speak her mind and tell you exactly what she thought. Sometimes that was refreshingly honest but sometimes it scared people a little bit. At school she was known as “Killer Miller” but she was also the one who was always available for almost anything at church. She supported her grandchildren in whatever ways that she could and sometimes made them little loans when they needed it.
Even toward the end she was, as she always was, her own woman. Ruth was the one who decided, on her own, that she would quit driving and give her car to someone in her family. She had always been a good storyteller and a collector a dolls from all over the world, and when she decided that it was time to give away her stuff, each doll, and each keepsake, came with a story about where it came from and what it meant so that they would stay with the family. And she was the one, at the Brookdale nursing home, who helped to establish an institutional recycling program, and encouraged them to start serving water in the afternoon.
We could literally stay here and tell stories about Ruth Miller all afternoon. But, in the end, they all seem to boil down to just a few themes that have changed us all and will have an impact on all of our lives. First, for Ruth, life was always about family. Just listening to all of the things that she did to make a home for her family is enough to make you tired. But she did it because family is just that important. Second, a big part of her life was about church. Church was a place to feel at home, to have a second family, and a place where she could help others who needed it. Third, life was about doing the things that you loved. Ruth did a lot of things but she didn’t waster her time doing things that she didn’t like unless she was doing it for someone that she loved.
Ruth Miller was always her own woman but her passion for her family, her love of Jesus, and her passion for life had an impact on everyone around her. I know that all of Ruth’s children became who they are today because of what Ruth taught them and because of the life that she modeled for them. Michelle decided to become a teacher, largely because of Ruth’s influence. In know that everyone here at Trinity has been changed because of Ruth’s influence and I know that all of you who have gathered here today have done so because of what Ruth’s life has meant to each of you.
Compared to Ruth Miller, Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray don’t look all that impressive. I’m sure that Ruth wouldn’t want anyone to describe her as a superhero and she probably never thought of what she did as anything particularly remarkable, but then again, in a lot of ways that “greatest generation” label doesn’t really go far enough either. If any of us can manage to do half as good, or do half as much, as Ruth did, we would be pretty proud of ourselves.
There is an old saying that absolutely rings true of our relationship with Ruth:
“We stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Ruth L. Miller
November 11, 1922 – April 26, 2016
Ruth Lovina Miller, age 93, long time resident of Perry Heights went to be with the Lord on 4-26-16.
She was born in Canton, Ohio on 11-11-22 to William J. and Mary Ann Allan. She graduated from Louisville High School and was married to Joseph D. Miller on 10-19-41 at the First Mennonite Church in Canton.
She was preceded in death by her husband Joseph D. Miller and siblings: Euphemia Miller, Elizabeth Wood, William Allan, Paul Allan and James Allan.
She is survived by her sister Lois Hamilton and her children James Miller, Kathleen Casey and Kenneth Miller. Grandchildren: Todd, Patrick, Joe and Kate Miller; Michelle Rose, Angela Thompson, Brenda Boomhower and Luke Miller. Her great grandchildren Jody and Reid Miller; Zoe, Bija and Josephine Miller;
Ruby and Otis Terrell; Patrick, James, Sara and Alex Thompson; Tyler, Brittany and Thomas Rose.
She graduated from Kent State in 1964 with a Bachelor’s in Education with her son Jim. It was a double proud day for her. She completed her Master’s at Akron University in Middle School Curriculum.
She retired from Perry Local Schools in 1985, where she spent most of her teaching career.
She has been an active, contributing member of Trinity United Methodist Church since its inception in 1947.
She loved to travel and visited many countries in Europe and many locations in the US and Canada. She especially loved to travel to new locations to visit her grandchildren. She also loved music (especially the organ) and a was a lifelong supporter of the Canton Symphony Orchestra.
After her retirement in 1985 she remained very active. She attended a weekly water aerobics class until she was in her 90’s. She was an Ombudsman, who advocated for residents in nursing facilities. She was an active member of the College Club of Canton and many book clubs.
Ruth could be described in many ways: adventurer, world traveler, a fair landlord, a knitter and seamstress, teacher of many and the matriarch of our family. She created and sewed the wedding dresses for many family members. She was a strong advocate of the importance of family and was always there to provide support. She was active in the Perry Historical Society and was a supporter of the efforts to restore the one room school house next to the Genoa Elementary School.
There will be a Celebration of her Life on Sat. 4-30-16 at Trinity United Methodist Church at 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, OH 44646 at 3 PM. The services will be from 3-4 PM with a reception immediately following the services at the church, 4- 6 PM.
In Lieu of flowers please send a donation in her name to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way East, Massillon, Ohio, 44646 or the Perry History Club Inc., PO Box # 80575, Canton, OH, 44708-0575 to restore the one room school house next to the Genoa Elementary School.