Dover’s Miller celebrates a century of life

William Miller, 100, sits with his wife Virginia , 96, in their Dover home. “The Millers will mark their 75th anniversary in August. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — He’s 100 years old, somewhat a novelty and slightly a celebrity.

William J. “Bill” Miller Jr. gets extra attention for, well, his age.

Just a minuscule few people live 10 decades — .000173 percent of the population according to the 2010 U.S. Census — and over 80 percent of those who do are women.

The longtime Dover resident, who celebrated his milestone birthday Feb. 5, gets approached by folks wanting to know what it’s like to exist for 36,500 days without interruption.

“They’ll say something like ‘I ain’t never seen a man that old,’ ” Mr. Miller said. “You get that kind of attention.”

There’s no clear reason why the centenarian made it for this long.

Professional affiliations
Fellow, American Society of Civil Engineers
Fellow, Institute of Traffic Engineers
Member, National Society of Professional Engineers
Past President, Kent-Sussex Chapter, Delaware Society of Professional Engineers
Past President, Mid-Atlantic Section, Institute of Traffic Engineers
American Society of Civil Engineers
Past President, Delaware Society of Professional Engineers
1967 Honor Man of the Year Award, Drexel University
1968 Outstanding Professional Engineer of the Year, Delaware Society of Professional Engineers
1991 First State Highway Hall of Fame
1992 Man of the Year Award, American Society of Highway Engineers
1992 Order of the First State – Governor Michael Castle
1993 Man of the Year Award, American Society of Highway Engineers
1999 First State Highway Hall of Fame, American Society of Highway Engineers
2012 Delaware Maritime Hall of Fame
2015 Wilmington High Wall of Fame
“Crossing the Delaware”
“A Ferry Tale”

“I have to say I’m a little bit lucky or someone is looking out for me,” Mr. Miller said.

Clues emerge, however, the longer a conversation with him continues.

Mr. Miller feels blessed for “the wonderful wife I have” who has proudly prepared balanced meals for nearly 75 years. His 96-year-old spouse Virginia said “My mom taught me to balance meals beautifully.”

The loving couple closes each day with a glass of red wine, and it’s worked pretty well so far.

Staying in shape is not just a New Year’s resolution that slowly drifts into oblivion.

Taking to the exercise bike twice a day for six total miles must contribute to Mr. Miller’s unusual longevity.

Doing 30 to 35 pushups daily makes a positive fitness impact, too.

“I exercise almost every day, but sometimes things come up,” he said.

Mr. Miller said he hasn’t had a major medical issue “that I know of” but later mentions in passing the Parkinson’s Disease that limits his mobility and requires a walker.

William H. Miller

“I probably can’t walk five steps without falling,” he said.

Factor it all in, and Mr. Miller takes every moment of his 100th year in stride.

“It just feels like another day,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s just another number.“

Daughter Judy Rigby, 67, chuckles while recalling her dad’s 65th birthday celebration that was 3 1/2 decades ago and counting.

“At the time I remember talking about how we’re getting older and they’re getting older and that we should spend more time with our parents while we still can,” said Ms. Rigby who has sisters ages 70 and 64 and a 61-year-old brother.

Now, Ms. Rigby says, “They just never stop. My dad has always been very active and my mom was great at providing healthy meals.

“They just make a good pair, the two are great together.

“They’re both spunky and in good health, and adamant to live on their own. They have a caretaker with them during the day to take them everywhere they want to go …”

Family members check in on them during the weekends at their home with a beautiful view of Moores Lake, and Ms. Rigby takes her parents to the Church of the Holy Cross each Sunday.

The couple meets

The Millers have stayed together since meeting at a Canby Park swimming pool in the Wilmington area in the late 1930s. Their relationship blossomed while going for Cokes and dancing at a dance hall called Eleanor’s.

“She’s a whiz on the dance floor,” Mr. Miller said of his longtime partner.

They married on Aug. 7, 1942 and Mr. Miller soon took a train to Seattle, then eventually boating to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to serve in the U.S. Army overseeing construction projects during World War II. When he returned, the couple raised four children in the years that followed.

A throwback to the days when employees and companies bonded for decades instead of until the next wave of layoffs or better job offer, Mr. Miller worked for 28 years with the Delaware State Highway Department (including time as its director of operations) and then another 28 years as the Delaware River and Bay Authority’s first executive director.

Bill and Ginny Miller were married Aug. 7, 1942. (Submitted photo)

He speaks proudly of serving in the Army Corps of Engineers as an active member before joining the reserves and retiring as a lieutenant colonel to cap a 28-year military stint.

Now, Mr. Miller looks forward to reaching 28 years of retirement. He’s got three more years to go and plans on seeing it.

“I guess there’s something about me doing things for 28 years at a time,” he said with an amused tone.

At every stop, a pattern of leadership and honors for excellent work emerged as Mr. Miller furthered his career. He worked hard to earn the opportunity, achieving an engineering degree from Drexel University in Philadelphia by attending night school three days a week for several years.

Mr. Miller authored two books, chronicling the history of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in “Crossing the Delaware” and reviewing the development of the area’s ferry system in “A Ferry Tale – Crossing the Delaware on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.”

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