May 28, 2009

Remembering Rhea


11/29/09 – 1/01/09

Rhea Dorothy (Sullivan) Miller was born November 29, 1909, daughter of William Francis and Edith Bertha (Fromholz) Sullivan, in the small town of Ravenna, Michigan. She had two older brothers, William (Willy) and Glenn, and a younger sister, Maxine. They all preceded her in death. There, she grew up with a wonderful family life. Her father was a carpenter and built the family home in 1917 which still stands today. He played the fiddle and her mother played the piano at the local dances, so the whole family came along. Rhea learned to love music and loved to dance. She played the piano by ear and learned to play the banjo. As a teenager, she worked at the soda fountain in the local drugstore. She enjoyed the work & had fun decorating the windows. She always spoke highly of her boss. In high school she played on the basketball team for four years. The family home was on a creek so they caught fish & spent time in the water. They grew all of their own vegetables and her Mother did a lot of canning. She also sewed all of the family’s clothing..

The family traveled to her grandparents’ farm in Traverse City, Michigan for visits, reunions and vacations. There were barn raisings and her father, being a carpenter, would help build many of them. The women would cook loads of food. While there Rhea had lots of fun with all of her cousins. She recalls her Grandfather as a tall and very distinguished looking man. He would play ball with the children. When they put up the freshly cut grain, he would let them walk around in it barefoot and it felt cool.. He would take them fishing, too. Every year she spent the summer on the farm. One winter she was having a lot of bronchial problems so the Doctor prescribed her to go barefoot while at the farm that summer. That was the cure!

Soon after Rhea’s graduation from high school in 1928, the family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, a large city. Her Father was offered a job with Grand Rapids Store Equipment Co. Rhea was a little saddened to leave Ravenna as the town was like a big family and she had to leave all of her friends. Rhea planned to attend Junior College but decided to stay home to help her Mother care for her brother, Willy, who had come home from college with a mysterious illness. Today it would probably be diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis. She was devoted to his care. He soon passed away in 1930 at age 25. She often talked about him and what a good person he was. She missed him terribly and thought he died too young.

Later on Rhea met Phillip Russell Miller at the Oakdale Methodist Church. They married on May 18, 1931. They had five children: (Phillip) Roger, Thomas, Alyce (Miller) Shutzbaugh and Richard (Dick). In between Tom and Alyce she had a little girl who was born prematurely and did not survive due to breathing problems. They had survived through many changes in the country & the Depression. They had a very happy life together. Phillip worked for Consumers Power Co. They spent vacations at the Miller parents’ cottage. They enjoyed swimming, fishing and picnicking. They had numerous pets and loved animals.

Phillip had several other occupations but soon opened his own electric motor repair business in the basement of the house at 937 Madison. Rhea helped with the bookkeeping and took good care of the children at the same time. Leisure time was spent at the lakes. The kids spent most of their time at the park across the street doing ice skating, playing ball and swimming. Friends were always around to play cards.. The business grew so they rented a building and they both spent the day there. Rhea would help with the books and even do some of the other work. The kids would help too by painting motors and winding coils. They would spend some time in Florida in the winter with friends. In the mid 1960s, Phillip was diagnosed with diabetes and heart problems. Richard took over the shop while he was ill and still did his school work. Phillip then passed away in 1970 at age 59 from congestive heart failure. They were married 39 years. After being widowed, Rhea moved in with Roger where she enjoyed being with her two grandchildren Elaine and Phil.

After a few years of visits away from the cold and snow, Rhea decided to move to Concord, CA. where Alyce lived. She moved to a senior mobile home park where she made many lifelong friends. She joined a TOPS group and soon became a KOP (Keep Off Pounds Sensibly). She was a member of the KOPS society of Contra Costa. She was also active in the Concord Seniors and a lifetime member. Her hobbies were playing cards, bingo, and doing word search . She would go with the seniors on casino and other tours. She did pool exercise and yoga classes. In her 60’s she would take up bowling and be on several leagues which she enjoyed immensely. She had a favorite soap, “Days of our Lives” she watched everyday and she never missed seeing the Lawrence Welk show. Her love of music took her to many plays and concerts.

For her 90th birthday the children surprised her with a trip to Branson, MO, where she saw the Lawrence Welk show. There were over 30 family members there. She was in shock when she saw her sister from Florida, and more people kept arriving. She thought it was just the immediate family coming but there were grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as many cousins. For her 95th birthday we took her on a 4 day cruise to Mexico. It was her first cruise and she enjoyed herself so much. The Southwest pilot even sang to her on the flight there, so she became an instant celebrity.

Rhea and Alyce attended many jazz festivals as they enjoyed the Traditional (Dixieland) Jazz. Her favorite band was Bob Schultz’s Frisco Jazz Band. She would “light up” when the music began & stayed that way until it was over. Her favorite song was “Up the Lazy River”.

Rhea lived on her own until she was 96. Rhea moved to Vacaville, CA to live with Alyce after being diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2006. She took radiation and other treatments. She transferred to a local TOPS chapter and made new friends. Last fall a CT scan showed that the cancer had spread to the liver. She was not responding to the treatments. The cancer became aggressive & she grew weaker. She spent her last two months at Vacaville Convalescent home where she received wonderful care and she felt very comfortable. We lost her on January 1, 2009 at the age of 99. She was cremated and a service was held on January 23, 2008, in Vacaville, CA. Over 60 people attended. A second service will be held on May 30, 2009, 11:30 a.m., at Resurrection Life Church in Newaygo, MI with granddaughter Elaine’s husband, Mark Slagh, officiating. Her ashes will be placed with Phillip earlier that day. .

Rhea will be remembered by her family and friends especially for the greeting cards and letters she wrote. She never missed a birthday or any other occasion and would send a greeting card to everyone. Whenever we took her shopping you could always find her on the greeting card aisle .She always took pride in her appearance, keeping her hair and nails done and she was particular about her attire. She was proud of her almost 20-year KOPS status too. She had kept her weight off since 1989. She will also be remembered for her sweetness, sense of humor, her laugh, love of music and for always caring for the other person.

Rhea is survived by her four children, five grandchildren and 15great-grandchildren and 13 great-great grandchildren.

Before Rhea passed away, she asked Alyce to tell everyone in the family how much she loved them and how proud she was of them. She also loved all of her friends of which there were many. Several have passed on but she still has loads of young friends because she was loved by young and old alike.

Alyce (Miller) Shutzbaugh.

Thank you Alyce Miller Shutzbaugh & Elaine Slagh for the lovely remembrance of Rhea Dorothy Sullivan Miller

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