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Sylvan Miller Of The Past And The Present


Bradley Ash


Time passes all too fast for almost everyone. But, nowwe will break the time zone and go back to the early 1900's to the "goodold days."

A new day is born. Over the horizon peeks the first raysof the morning sun. Soon down the path to school comes a little boy whosename is Sylvan Miller, with his lunch pail in one hand and his books inthe other. Soon he arrives at a rural school where his classmates are playingin the school yard. Sylvan is just going to start to play, when the teachercomes out with the bell and rings it to signal that classes are to begin.The children moan and file into the classroom. This rural school, whichis called the Bash Hills School, is located in Whitley County, Indiana.It is a one room rural school with the door at one end and a wood burningstove inside. Now, with the large class settled down, school begins.

The bell rings again, but it is eight years later, andSylvan now sits down in a high school classroom.

After four short years in high school, Sylvan graduatesand sets out on his own.

Getting a good job after getting out of high school wasnot as easy as he thought it was going to be. He decided on the teachingcareer. Mr. Miller had to first take a certain examination before he couldbecome a teacher. This written examination was called the Second Grade ElementaryExamination which covered the required subjects. If you passed you couldteach on a two year basis. Having passed this test, he was all set for hisfirst teaching job.

Mr. Miller's first teaching job turned up at a ruralschool in Morton County, North Dakota, almost due south of Mandan, the countyseat of Morton County. This area had been the homestead of earlier immigrants.Most of them were from the Ukraine, a part of Russia located near the BlackSea.

Mr. Miller ran head-on into the language situation thefirst week as a teacher. He had only about fifteen pupils, but one of hisstudents was a beginner, a six year old boy named Frank who spoke only German.The beginner's book that he started Frank out on was called the Brooks Primer.On page one there was the picture of a kitten, on page two, that of a doll.He began his instruction in this manner; "Frank what is this? Whatdo you see?" They were now on page one, but Frank did not respond.Caroline, the eleven year old sister of Frank, came over and whispered "EineKatze," which in German meant a cat, and quick as a flash, Frank said"Eine Katze." On page two there was the picture of the doll andagain his sister whispered, "Eine Puppe," which were the wordsfor a doll.

Mr. Miller realized that here was the beginning of a problem,so he asked the sister to tell Frank that they would use the English words.Mr.Miller said that he would read to him in English and that Frank would repeatthe words after him in the English version. Frank promised with "IchVersuche"- meaning I'll try, and soon he learned the language.

In this same rural school, Mr. Miller had a second gradernamed Monica. She really astounded Mr.Miller by her reading ability, andher understanding of the English language. At home her fourteen year oldbrother proved to be a real "whiz" in arithmetic.

The rural schools at the time Mr. Miller taught were framebuildings. Heat was provided by burning lignite coal in the heating stoves,and the transportation was any way you could get there. Of course, eachrural school had a barn for stabling the horses, either ridden or drivento the school. Life was not too hectic of a pace in those days. For recreation,people usually played cards. In the fall, there were the church bazaars,and at times there were dances.

After three years of rural teaching, Mr. Miller attendedthe State Normal School for Teacher Training. Upon graduation, he was entitledto a Second Grade Professional Certificate which was good for seven years.But it was now 1917 and instead of teaching, Mr. Miller decided to enterin the Navy.

The enlistment period for the U.S. Navy was for four years.His rank or rating was E3c-Ro-USN; which meant electrician, third class,radio operator, U.S. Navy.

Basic training of nine weeks was at the Dunwoody Institutein Minneapolis. Seven of these weeks were spent practicing and learningradio telegraphy (wireless). The International Morse Code was used. Electriccircuits, rheostats, transformers, transmission on wave lengths, use ofantennae, etc. were part of the course.

To qualify for a rating, one needed to pass written testsin theory and have the capacity to send and receive twenty-five words perminute, (a word was based on five letters of the alphabet.) Standard codespeed was sixteen words per minute. Code groupings were always repeatedwhen sending, and they usually consisted of four letters, such as XDOI,CVLY, ARZN, etc. All code had to be printed out by the receiver when themessage came in. The receiver, and the sender did not know the meaning ofthe code letters. Only the higher officers knew what the message was bydecoding it from a code book. The code books were also lead weighted soif thrown overboard they would sink to the bottom of the ocean.

At this time (l9l7-l9l9) the greatest distance coveredby radio or wireless was about two thousand miles. It was achieved by thehuge arc sending station (land based) at Arlington Virginia. The huge towershad triangular antennas. The antennae forming this triangle were 580 feetabove the ground mounted upon three steel towers. The night transmissionto all ships and land stations of the Navy began at ten p.m. and ended atmidnight. The sender on the arc set at Arlington was a C.P.0. (chief pettyofficer) and a specialist in radio. He used a relay key on the arc set,since the use of the huge key on the arc set was not feasible for manualuse.

The uniform Mr. Miller wore in the Navy was like that ofthe Coast Guard of that time.

Time passed and in March of 1919 Mr. Miller decided toteach again and return to civilian life. First off he went to Bismark tosee about his teaching certificate. He went to see the Supt. of Public Instructionwhere she assured him that there was no problem. She assisted Mr. Millerin getting a position, as principal in a small school at Slanton, NorthDakota, which had only grades nine and ten. He taught at this school fortwo years. Later he was a principal at schools at Carpio, and Tolley, NorthDakota.

At Carpio, along with his teaching duties, Sylvan coachedbasketball. The basketball games he coached were played usually in townhalls heated by a stove in the corner and lighted by gasoline lamps suspendedfrom the ceiling. At these town halls there were no shower baths, so theplayers usually had two or three dry towels after the game and some carriedliniment bottles. The games were played for the sport of it, but the turnout and the enthusiasm was great. High scoring was the exception, not therule.

After teaching for a number of years, Mr. Miller decidedto get a degree and a First Grade Professional Certificate so he attendedthe University of North Dakota at Grand Forks. He majored in school administration,and minored in English and sociology. To get the B.A. degree, he neededto earn l28 semester hours credit. Previous schooling and Navy experiencegave him a head start with forty-eight semester hours of credits. To earnthe other credits he attended five summer sessions and did much studyingat home. He also took several corresponding courses to earn more credits.

During his teaching career, Mr. Miller taught Latin, algebra,bookkeeping, American history, and present day problems. Mr. Miller alsobelieved in frequent spelling tests given to the students to act as an aidto good writing and good usage in English. Students conceded such testswere beneficial.

During his teaching career, he taught at many schools inNorth Dakota, but, seeking greener pastures and more stable work, Mr. Millerstarted work as a custom's agent. Because of the job, Mr. Miller moved intothe house of which Richard Maier now lives in at Humboldt, Minnesota, onJuly 6, 1932, and later raised a family.

As a custom's agent, Mr.Miller worked at Noyes, Lancaster,Warroad, and Winnipeg. At Winnipeg he inspected furs and even turkey eggsat one time. Also as a custom's agent, he worked as a German interpetorfor the German immigrants.

Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years,and suddenly the age limit came upon Mr. Miller, so he decided to retirefrom the custom's service.

At the present, even though he is retired, he still enjoyshis health and remains active. He enjoys reading, gardening, and has a stampcollection. Along with these other duties, Mr. Miller and his wife bringjoy and happiness to other people by doing something that comes naturalbeing themselves.



Miller, Sylvan: Interview January 21, 1971

Miller, Sylvan: Interview February 4, 1971


Miller, Sylvan: Interview January 21, 1971

Miller, Sylvan: Interview February 4, 1971