Edinboro University’s oldest alumna, Clara Miller, Class of 1929, passed away on May 28, 2012, at the age of 103. Clara was a teacher at Columbus Elementary School in Erie for 44 years, retiring in 1973. She was a member of Asbury United Methodist Church, Daughters of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Colonies and Descendants of the Mayflower. Clara proudly rode in the Homecoming 2008 parade and was recognized as our most senior alumna.
For someone whose odometer of life just passed the century mark, Edinboro alumna Clara Minnig Miller remarkably showed no signs of slowing down.
She lived independently at the Erie’s Sarah Reed Retirement Center. Clara earned her bachelor’s degree from Edinboro State Teachers College in just three years, graduating in the nation’s milestone year of 1929. It was the year that launched the Great Depression, the year during which civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was born, and the year of Chicago’s notorious St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. It was the year of the very first Academy Awards, and the year Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as the nation’s 31st president.
Clara, however, arrived on the scene 21 years earlier on December 15, 1908. Born in Erie, the daughter of William and Ethel Minnig, she spent one year at Washington School at the corner of West 21st and Sassafras Streets – a school that coincidentally would later house Edinboro State Teachers College’s Erie branch. Clara also attended Erie’s old Franklin Elementary School, a building situated near W. 26th and Peach Streets. When she was 12, the family moved to the Corry area where she attended several schools, eventually graduating from the Corry High School.
In vivid detail she recalls traveling to school with her father via horse and buggy, a five- mile trip one way that became particularly adventurous during the winter months.
Clara Minnig Miller’s entire Edinboro undergraduate career occurred on the third floor of Washington Elementary School. While she was there, Lyman H. Van Houten directed the branch until 1928, when he returned to the main campus. Van Houten was replaced at the Erie branch by Nettie G. Hudson, an instructor Clara recalls with great fondness.
After graduation, and after earning her master’s degree on the main campus of Penn State University, Clara launched a 43-year teaching career in the Erie School District, all of that time at the former Columbus Elementary School in west Erie’s so-called “Little Italy” area.
“Many of my former pupils were first generation Americans, the children of Italian immigrants who held education and respect for teachers in the highest esteem,” she said during an interview at her apartment at Sarah Reed.
Over the years, she specialized in geography, but also taught math and reading at the K-6 school.
She recalled with pride a star student named Fiore Leone, who has now served as a respected member of Erie County Council for the past 30 years.
“I had Fiore when he was a 4th grader,” Clara smiles. “He was a good student and now he’s a good politician and leader!”
Perhaps unusual, but nonetheless true, is Clara’s revelation that several of her former students from her earliest years of teaching are also residents of the Sarah Reed Retirement Center. After all, some are now in their 80s!
The difference between students of the 1920s and 1930s as compared to those when she retired after more than four decades of service?
“That’s easy,” she responded with a knowing smile. “Discipline! In the beginning, students were well-disciplined. There was a respect for teachers and for education back then that had become noticeably absent by the time of my retirement.”
At the age of 49, Carla married Emory Miller, an automobile repairman and landscaper, and despite what was then considered a late-in-life marriage, the two enjoyed wonderful years together, Carla said. In fact, because of her love for geography, her retirement has been filled with abundant travel to far off places, many of which she taught about for decades.
To say it’s been an interesting century for the woman who’s lived through the administrations of 18 U.S. Presidents would be a gross understatement. She’s survived the Great Depression and two world wars. She witnessed air travel almost from its beginning, as
well as the advent of radio, television and the information age. She was there when women were finally recognized as voters, and she became part of a world entering the atomic age. An observer of history, she watched the civil rights movement, the moon landings and the evolution of what had been a small normal school into the region’s largest and most comprehensive institution of higher education.
Through it all, Clara credits much of her success in life to that school, an institution with superb professors that launched her teaching career, a school that charged her $144 a semester and nurtured what would become her lifelong love of learning.
In The Eriez, the 1929 yearbook of Edinboro’s Erie branch, here’s what was written about Clara: “In class, she is a conscientious, quiet student, but outside of the classroom, we find her a source of pep and fun.”
Yes, indeed the passing of an Edinboro legend . . .