Carroll Watson Rankin’s Daughter Imogene
Last night I was fortunate to see Monica Nordeen’s wonderful performance in Behind the Dandelions, the story of Carroll Watson Rankin, author of Dandelion Cottage. She brought the life of Marquette’s first author to life and Carrie Biolo did a marvelous job accompanying the story with music. I learned much about Rankin as a mother, wife, and aspiring author from the performance.
June has been named Dandelion Cottage Month by the Marquette Regional History Center and they have many wonderful activities this month to celebrate Dandelion Cottage, its author, and its place in Marquette history, including book discussions and walking tours. Be sure to visit the history center at www.MarquetteHistory.org for all the details as well as to get your copy of the timeless classic novel.
I’ve posted previously about Dandelion Cottage and Carroll Watson Rankin, so I thought in honor of the month I would post a section from my book My Marquette about Rankin’s daughter Imogene. This section was written for my book by my second cousin Nan Rushton, who worked for Imogene (Mrs. Miller) toward the end of her life. For more information, see my book My Marquette.
From My Marquette:
Carroll Watson Rankin’s daughter, Imogene Miller, lived at 209 E. Arch Street. She had married Stuart Miller and moved away but returned to Marquette with her husband when he retired; they bought this property just a block from where her sister, Phyllis, lived in the Rankin family home. My second cousin, Nanette Rushton, knew Mrs. Miller so I asked her to contribute her memories of the family:
Mrs. Miller was in her early nineties when I first met her and her “little sister” Phyllis Rankin, who was then in her eighties. Phyllis would go to the Garden Room Restaurant every day for lunch. I had been waitressing at the Coachlight and later the Garden Room at this time while working for the Trust Department at Union Bank. Some mutual friends, Homer and Margaret Hilton, called me to ask whether I was available to help a friend. They knew I worked for the Trust Department at Union Bank and wondered whether I would work for the Trust Department of First National, which handled all of Mrs. Miller’s business as well as that of her sister, Phyllis Rankin. Mrs. Miller had just lost her son, Berwick Rankin Miller, to a heart attack and was now living alone. She did not care to leave the house so needed someone to grocery shop and keep up the house. Her home was painted white, had a green mansard roof, and lace curtains in the tall windows.
Mrs. Miller’s house was almost exactly a block behind her parents’ house on Ridge Street where her sister Phyllis lived at that time. Across the street was a parking area for the Episcopal Church, an empty lot, and Dandelion Cottage with a couple of more houses on the block toward Pine. Mrs. Argeropoulus was then living in Dandelion Cottage. Her daughter Joyce and son-in-law Scott Matthews would eventually live next door to me. Mrs. Argeropoulus had quite a large garden and would bring beets and “greens” for Mrs. Miller that she liked.
Mrs. Miller told me about how she became engaged to her husband at this time. In the early 1900s, Mr. Stuart Berwick Miller was in town to oversee the local branch of DuPont while it was being built; he was a chemical engineer in the munitions field. According to Mrs. Miller, he originally dated her sister Eleanor, but when he asked their father for Eleanor’s hand in marriage, Mr. Rankin said, “I have to have the eldest daughter married first.” So Mr. Miller ended up marrying Imogene, since she was the oldest. They were married in 1910, and they moved back “out east” when Mr. Miller was finished overseeing the project. Over the years, the Millers tried many times to have children. It was heartbreaking for Mrs. Miller that only her son Berwick had survived out of her many pregnancies. Because he never married and died before her, she never had any grandchildren.
When Mr. Miller retired from DuPont, they moved back to Marquette. Besides the house on Arch Street, they had a cabin for summer and hunting not far out of town. During World War II, Mr. Miller was volunteering in the Rationing Stamp office where he died at his desk. Mrs. Miller was always a member of the Episcopal Church and in 1952 she donated the stained glass rose window above the church entrance in her husband and mother’s memories.
Besides grocery shopping, I often visited with Mrs. Miller and stayed with her for a few hours. She did not have a TV until her sister, Phyllis talked her into buying one in 1981 by telling her, “Nan would really like to watch the royal wedding” (of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer). I could have watched the wedding at home but played along so Mrs. Miller would buy a TV. Once she owned the TV, she rarely watched it. She preferred to do crossword puzzles, read books and magazines, (The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, etc) and read the five newspapers she subscribed to… the local Mining Journal, Washington Post, New York Times and a couple of others. She knew everything worth knowing without seeing anything on TV.
Working for Mrs. Miller was like having another grandparent. She was very shy, quiet, reserved, and very humble. I enjoyed hearing about her first ride in a car (the doctor had the first car in town), antidotes about the neighbors as she grew up at the turn of the century, her experiences out east involving the DuPont mansion when Stuart worked for the family. My interest in history was developed during our conversations. One day, she mentioned something about “…when my husband was in the war” I was trying to figure out if she meant World War I or World War II, so I asked, “Which war was that?” I was totally unprepared for her answer. She sat up straight, gave me a look with a pause, and said, “The Spanish-American War, of course!”
In January of 1986, Mrs. Miller passed away at the age of ninety-nine in her home. She had fallen in November, and then had round the clock nursing care at home since she refused to go to the hospital because her son had died there. She is buried with her family in Park Cemetery.
The best word to describe Mrs. Miller is “shy.” It’s always the first word that comes to my mind. She was very down to earth, unassuming, yet had known unique experiences in life. A conversation with Imogene Watson Rankin Miller was equal to interaction with an encyclopedia, history text, and society column all at the same time.
This entry was posted on June 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm and is filed under Marquette History, Marquette's Historical Homes, Upper Michigan Books and Authors. You can subscribe via RSS 2.0 feed to this post's comments.
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