Victoria woman celebrates 103rd birthday

Camille Doty

April 4, 2012 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated April 3, 2012 at 11:04 p.m.

Evelyn Miller, right, leans over to give daughter Estelle Miller a kiss on the cheek during a birthday party to celebrate Miller's 103rd birthday. She lives at the Texan Nursing and Rehab in Victoria.

Evelyn Miller, right, leans over to give daughter Estelle Miller a kiss on the cheek during a birthday party to celebrate Miller's 103rd birthday. She lives at the Texan Nursing and Rehab in Victoria.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

William Howard Taft became president of the United States exactly one month before Evelyn Miller was born.

The McKeesport, Pa., native has made history in her own right. She is the oldest resident at her nursing home and member of her synagogue, Temple B'nai Israel.

Loved ones surrounded Miller for her 103rd birthday at the Texan Nursing & Rehabilitation of Victoria East on Wednesday afternoon.

Although she cannot hear as well as she used to, Miller's face lit up with her daughter's warm embrace.

In the past, when friends asked her the best part of becoming a centenarian, she responded, "No peer pressure."

The quick-witted mother of three moved to Victoria in the 1940s and has lived in the area ever since.

"She's a Pennsylvania native, but she's a Texas treasure," said Dorothy Janota, her former supervisor.

Janota, a former nursing director at Citizens Medical Center, described the guest of honor as a watchful assistant, who didn't let nonsense come Janota's way.

The two worked side-by-side for 12 years. Miller, who was a receptionist, knew everyone by name when they came to pick up their paychecks.

She also volunteered at the hospital as a pink lady.

Miller's sharp memory is matched by her thoughtful nature and exceptional cooking skills.

"I never liked cabbage until she made it," said W.K. Brooks, a longtime friend.

He said the homemade dish took a week to marinate and prepare.

It was common for the former hospital pink lady to visit friends with delectable delights, whether it was chicken soup or dessert.

Even if Miller doesn't have much of an appetite, she'll always make room for Popeye's fried chicken, said another friend, Barbara Brooks.

She brings Miller chicken every time she visits her on East Airline Road. The two have been friends for at least 30 years.

Brooks said Miller is selfless by nature.

Each year, for example, Miler would send her mother flowers on Miller's birthday. Her mother was born in Germany and did not have a birth certificate, so she did not know when her birthday was. To help her mother have a special day as well, Miller, the oldest of six children, would share her own.

"That is one of the sweetest stories," Brooks said of her friend.

Although Miller is wheelchair-bound, she visits residents in other rooms in the nursing home to keep people company.

Natasha Whitson, the home's activity director, said the seven-year resident keeps the staff on their toes.

"She keeps us all young," said Whitson.

Family members and friends reminisced about the guest of honor while sharing homemade cake, chicken salad sandwiches and, of course, Popeye's chicken.

"Birthdays have always been a big deal for us," said Joan Miller, one of Evelyn's daughters. The children received birthday cakes even when they were in college in Austin and Oklahoma.

Joan Miller came from Tampa, Fla., to celebrate her mother's birthday. Her sister, Estelle Miller, traveled from Alexandria, Va.

Another sister, Stephanie Miller, died in a car wreck in 1960 at the age of 16.

Estelle Miller, who is a book designer, said her mother kept memorabilia of the deceased daughter.

"You don't handle it, you just keep going," Estelle Miller said, speaking of the centenarian's strength and perseverance.

In the afternoon, after Whitson cut the cake to celebrate all the April birthdays at the nursing home, Miller received a special serenade from a three-member singing group.

She cracked a smile as they sang to her.

"Mom's a star and she doesn't even know it," Joan Miller said.



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