The bravest thing Carol Miller ever did was throw away her soap.
The bravest thing Carol Miller ever did was throw away her soap. In her 50’s, Carol was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which she calls “the worst shock I’d ever had.” She and her husband, David, had to throw away all their cleaning products and learn a lot about rugs, furniture, varnish and food. Clearing her household of potential toxins, radically altering her diet, advocating for her own care and coming to terms with a newly limited life was an incredible undertaking, but Carol was up to the task. “One thing I’ve always admired about you, Mother," says her daughter, Vicky Rozich, “is that you always find an alternative.”
Carol laughs. “If I ever quit looking for an alternative,” she replies, “I’m probably already half-dead.”
Childhood in Chicago
Born in Chicago in 1932 to Dorothea and Will Wendell, Carol’s earliest memories are of sunshine. She remembers sitting on a stone step in her kitchen at age 3 and just loving the sun streaming into the family's "huge old house" on Washington Boulevard. Her grandmothers told her she would ride her little tricycle around an enormous dining room table wearing an ironed white dress.
Carol's father, Will Wendell, worked in real estate. Her mother, Dorothea, was a medical technologist and returned to work soon after Carol's birth, leaving her care largely to a beloved nurse. “I can remember the shape of her face, and everyone I have loved since then has had a face like hers,” Carol says of the nurse. Then she turns to her husband, smiles, and lovingly touches his face.
English Teacher, Animal and Nature Lover
Carol majored in English at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, graduating in 1953. While there, she met her husband in a philosophy class, and they married in 1955.
A lover of books and stories and words, Carol received her Master’s Degree in English from the University of Chicago that same year. David became a Lutheran pastor, serving in several parishes, including the Calvary and Luther Memorial parishes on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Their daughter, Vicky, was born in 1958. “I’ve never been a person of stamina or ambition, either one,” Carol insists, but her achievements are many.
She taught English at Wright College in Chicago, and studied psychology and mental health. For nine years, she edited the Journal of the International Peperomia Society, an indoor-gardening guide. (A peperomia is a hardy indoor plant.)
She is committed to the care of animals, providing support to shelters and rescues from Utah to Illinois.
Her love of nature, from sunshine to flourishing plants and her beloved dogs and cats, is best expressed by a t-shirt her husband gave her bearing a quote from one of his teachers in Seminary: “Nature is the theater of God’s grace.” Appropriately, her favorite poem is “To Autumn,” John Keats’ ode to the changing seasons.
She has an impeccable eye, according to her daughter, for furnishings, textiles and historic clothing, primarily from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Not only did she decorate her own home, she also furnished dollhouses with carefully crafted miniatures. She takes great pride in being a wife, a mother to her daughter and a grandmother: her grandson Travis Rozich, 25, shares her love of words and often competes with her in verbal games. He lives in New York. Her granddaughter, Bianca Rozich, died in 2012 of complications related to a disability. She was 15.
Legacy Through Stories
Carol has a particular love of the past, and how it can shape the futures of those who come after her. Driven by her love of stories and her curiosity about others’ lives, particularly those of her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, she has composed their histories.
She uses vivid detail to describe their lives, from the Burny Brothers Bakery’s horse-drawn delivery wagon to her grandmother's experience teaching immigrant women to sew buttonholes in men’s suits. “The people who preceded us had a much harder time than we do,” Carol says. “I’ve had such an easy life in comparison.” Her ancestors’ strength lives on in Carol: in her ability to face her illness head on, to pursue varied and creative interests, to love and to serve, and to chronicle family stories for posterity. “I’m an only child,” she says. “Victoria’s an only child…and her son is an only child, since we lost Bianca…we need the background to be there for people.”
Carol’s stories link the past to the future. They are her legacy.