Frances B. Miller

Frances Miller

Frances Miller

BERNE — Frances B. Miller, a centenarian as of last July, spent 100 years in devotion and kindness to those around her. She died Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. 

Mrs. Miller was born on July 18, 1919 in Berne, the oldest of five siblings. Her parents, Ada (née Shultes) and Omer Becker, were farmers on Switzkill Road and taught their children how to help out around the property as early as possible. By the time Mrs. Miller was tall enough to unlatch the gate, she was herding the cattle early in the morning, after she fetched their water. 

Because the family farmed, they ate only what they themselves produced, which tended to be simple fare of bread, butter, meat, and vegetables. It stood in contrast to the comparatively lavish meals produced by Mrs. Miller’s future mother-in-law, which featured specialty items like oysters on holidays, and Hellmann’s mayonnaise. 

But while farm chores came before anything else in the Becker family, there was plenty of fun to be had, too. Whenever her parents went square dancing at Iris Saddlemire’s house, Mrs. Miller would cuddle up inside the guests’ winter coats and hats and fall asleep until the festivities wound down and the guests trickled out back into the cold, and it came time for her parents to bring her back home.

When she was a young girl, Mrs. Miller was given a doll, which was of such intricate and tender quality that she understood it was a “show doll” and not a “play-with” doll, as she wrote in a book of memories published by the Berne Public Library in 2011. 

Over the years, the doll’s dress became frayed and damaged. But Mrs. Miller’s cousin, Margaret Becker Barnhardtt, took to sewing the doll a new dress, all the same right down to the embroidered flowers, which the doll will wear as it is interred with Mrs. Miller. 

 Mrs. Miller met her husband, 13 years her senior, when she was 8 years old. Hubert Miller, then Berne’s assessor, visited the family’s farm after dogs got into the sheep pen and killed some of their livestock. But first she met her future father-in-law, who sat behind the family in church as Mrs. Miller would crawl around the pews, playing with him, before the family reseated her. 

The Millers married on Thursday, Oct. 7, 1937 in a private ceremony. Back then, there was a tradition called “horning,” sometimes referred to as a shivaree, where friends and family of newlyweds would barge into their quarters and sing raucously to informally welcome them into matrimony. Mr. Miller, however, was a busy man and attempted to avoid the ordeal. 

When asked by a friend when and where they could be found for the horning, Mr. Miller simply replied, “Wherever you can find us.”

Eventually, though, their friends found a time and place and, knowing it was inevitable, Mrs. Miller helped her mother prepare drinks and snacks for her guests. 

The Millers made their life in farming, and meanwhile had nine kids, now ranging in age from 62 to 81. They also took in foreign exchange students — two from Germany and one from Brazil — and one Fresh Air kid, who came up from New York City for six weeks over many summers, and kept coming back to visit well into his 20s. 

On the farm, Mrs. Miller used to make and sell her own ice cream, which attracted many Jewish children from nearby summer camps. As the Millers got older, they lived in Florida during the winters, always by car, which was one of Mrs. Miller’s favorite pastimes. 

“My mother just loved to be in a car, period,” said Sharon Vincent, Mrs. Miller’s daughter. “That’s always where she was happiest.”

Another daughter, Marilyn Nardolillo, said Mrs. Miller would always take her up on an offer to accompany her for a ride. 

“One time I didn’t ask, and before I left she came and asked me,” Ms. Nardolillo said. 

Mrs. Miller and her husband often traveled, always by car, one time making it all the way to Mexico. 

At home, Mrs. Miller loved to read, crochet, and garden, among other things.

“She did what any homemaker would do,” said Ms. Vincent.

  On gardening, Mrs. Miller once quipped, “I want my flowers when I’m alive, not when I’m dead.”

Mrs. Miller particularly loved watching deer and birds in her yard, and always made sure to leave out bread left over from meals to attract them. 

“She liked life in general,” said Ms. Vincent.

Mrs. Miller also enjoyed being involved in local community operations. She was a 75-year charter member of the Foxenkill Grange and organized many of the senior trips for the Hilltown Senior Citizens. 

She was a lifelong member of the Helderberg Evangelical Lutheran Church, with which she was also heavily involved, and attended St. John’s Lutheran Church whenever she was in Florida. 

Mrs. Miller passed her cooking habits onto her children and grandchildren, with buckwheat pancakes making the biggest appearance in their lives.

“Our Christmas dinner was always pancakes,” said Ms. Vincent.

When asked what the difference was between buckwheat pancakes and regular pancakes, Ms. Vincent replied, “They’re better.”

“People either like them or don’t,” said Ms. Nardolillo. “It’s all I eat.”

Mrs. Miller also canned all surplus foods that the farm yielded, a skill she’s handed down through the generations. 

“It’s why she lived to be 100,” Vincent joked. 

“It was good,” Ms. Nardolillo recalled of growing up with her mother on the farm. “It was actually really good.”

Mrs. Miller also taught her kids to put their spouses first, a virtue derived from her deep devotion to her husband. When Mr. Miller died in 2001, after 64 years of marriage, Mrs. Miller expressed a longing to see him again in the afterlife.

“She’s been wanting to be with my dad basically since he died,” Ms. Vincent said.

“She’s where she needs to be,” agreed Ms. Nardolillo. 

**** 

Mrs. Miller is survived by her children, Ralph Miller and his wife Jeannette; Harold Miller and his husband Edward Davidson; Carolyn Wright; Marilyn Nardoillo; Huberta Miller; Charles Miller, and his wife, Sandra; Sharon Vincent and her husband, Michael; Donald Miller and his wife, Theresa; and Allen Miller and his wife, Marie. 

She is survived also by sixteen grandchildren, many great grandchildren and several great-great grandchildren; her sister Mavis Schanz; brothers Maver Becker and Maryann Saddlemire; and Marvin Becker and his wife, Nancy; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

Sharon Vincent and Marilyn Nardolillo extend their thanks to Mary, Theresa, Ralph, Bert, and Sandy, and all the others who helped take care of Mrs. Miller over the years.

Calling hours will be held on Monday, Nov. 11, from 2 until 5 p.m. at the Fredendall Funeral Home at 199 Main Street, in Altamont. The funeral ceremony will take place the next day at the Helderberg Evangelical Lutheran Church at 1728 Helderberg Trail, in Berne at 11 a.m. with Pastor Wendy Cook officiating.

Memorial messages can be left at altamontenterprise.com/milestones

— By Noah Zweifel

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