Remarks from Sue Miller McDaniel: The Will and Harriet Ecological Park Turns Ten Years Old!

The Miller Ecological Park 10 Year Anniversary Celebration was originally scheduled for May 13, 2023. Sue Miller McDaniel traveled from the state of Washington to attend. Unfortunately, the event was postponed due to weather conditions. Since Sue was unable to attend the rescheduled celebration, we wanted to publish her remarks about the history and meaning of Miller Ecological Park. 

Hello to the community of Lebanon from the Miller Family! I am so pleased to be with you today to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Will and Harriet Miller Ecological Park! My name is Sue McDaniel.

I am Nancy Miller Myerholtz’s sister. Many of you know her because of her efforts to make this park a reality. My sister, Anne, and I are here from the Seattle area to share in this really special celebration. The three of us are granddaughters of Will and Harriet Miller to whom this lovely park is dedicated. My goal today is to give us a chance to look back at the how and why this land became a park. It is a story of family, dedication, cooperation, hard work and love of the land.

It all started when my great, great grandparents, Peter Miller and Margaret Koegel, emigrated from Germany around 1850, each traveling alone across the ocean. They met in Cincinnati, married, and by 1855 had settled in Lebanon. Twenty two years later, they purchased 114 acres of farmland that included the property we are standing on today. This land provided the Miller Family with a home, a living and an independent way of life for over 100 years. This place was a dream come true for them.

Peter and Margaret had four children, one of whom was my great grandfather, Charles. Charles married his sweetheart Lucy, and they in turn, had four children. Their family was devastated when Lucy died of pneumonia at the young age of 35. With his four children to raise, the youngest being only three, it was a blessing that Charles could move back to the Miller Farm so that his mother could help in their care. Those four children were the second generation of Millers to grow up on this farm.

One of those kids was my grandfather, Will, who was nine years old when his mother died. As he grew, he worked on the farm and he was good at it. When he was 17, the family suffered a double loss, the death of both his father, Charles, and his grandfather, Peter. Suddenly, it became Will’s responsibility to take over management of the farm. Young as he was, he took it on and did it with strength, skill and commitment, which were qualities he possessed throughout his life.  

In 1916, Will married his love, Harriet, and their two children, Edwin and Ellen, were the third generation to grow up here. Their family continued the tradition of making a productive and independent life in partnership with the land.  It meant hard work, never an over abundance of money, but was full of love and important life lessons. Ellen once wrote that they didn’t have much money but they were always rich.

Their son, Edwin, was my father. He deeply loved his family and this land and felt privileged to have grown up here. Farming was in his blood and he made it a part of his life by obtaining an Agricultural Engineering Degree and working with farmers in one way or another most of his life. This was a man who deeply believed in service to others and he did so in many ways in his community in Bowling Green, Ohio. He was a powerhouse.

Dad and Mom had five children and the greatest thing they could do for us was to bring us here. We did not grow up on this farm, but we loved it. Spending time on the farm with Grandma and Grandpa was the highlight of our summer. With Ellen’s two children, Mike and Barb, we shared wonderful and meaningful experiences here. Tractor rides, climbing trees, playing croquet, helping Grandma feed the chickens and Grandpa feed the hogs, learning to help in the fields, and having great family dinners with spirited discussions, were all part of why this farm holds such a special place in our hearts and why we are so grateful that this land became a park.

Will and Harriet worked the farm till they were in their 90s. After Will died, Harriet managed the farm for almost five years. Quite a feat for a women her age. After she died, my dad was grateful to find a wonderful family to rent and care for the farm. In 1993, when his health made it necessary for him to sell his beloved land, it was a blessing when that family wanted to buy the house and acreage surrounding it. It was really good to know that it was now in the hands of people who loved it. Then he had to decide what to do with the rest of the property he had inherited. He stayed true to who he was and decided to find a way to honor his parents and serve his hometown community. He worked out a deal with the City of Lebanon to sell them the land at a reduced price so they could develop it as a public park that would be named the Will and Harriet Miller Park. It was a wonderful idea. But of course, having land does not a park make!

Over the years there were many iterations on what the park would be. Plans came and went, and funding was always a major obstacle. Nancy knew how important this was to my Dad and stayed in touch with the City to follow its progress. In 2002, two shelters were built and in 2005, a grant made it possible to start a wildflower and prairie grass project. Then, in 2008, the City chose a Developmental Plan for Miller Park. It was to be the Will and Harriet Miller Ecological Park. An ecological park! That was brilliant, innovative and earth affirming. Yay! Dad would be thrilled. Thus, there was now a formal plan, but funding was still a major obstacle.  

A small group of community and family members came together at that point to look at ways to move forward.  One of those people was Jane Davis, who presented ideas about creating the park through community volunteerism. The idea took flight and in 2009, Dad’s cousin - Katherine Rowland, our cousin Mike Mullett, and Nancy established the Miller Ecological Park Fund through the Warren County Foundation. A Steering Committee and a Board of Trustees were created to organize ways to fund and build the park. They began writing applications for grants, organizing fundraising events, and finding donors. And they were successful! One by one, projects were funded and carried to fruition and the park was born!

This park was built by a remarkable team of people who emerged from different directions to come together and build something extraordinary.

First, there is the City. Throughout the project there has been cooperation and invaluable support from City Officials like Scott Brunka and Casey Burdick. They created the plan, worked well with the community and family, supplemented funding when it was possible and they have always done the important work of maintenance.

Another part of the team was the Lebanon community. You stepped up big time to help in all sorts of meaningful ways. You came up with ideas and often did the work. The Eagle Scouts did around 14 projects. People shared their special talents and skills in a way that proved to be instrumental in making this a true ecological park. This kind of community involvement has been really exciting to watch and it is rare.

And finally, there was the Miller Family. Nancy and Mike are considered our family Super Stars for their part in building this park. Nancy, because she was always willing to take on any challenge that would help the park move forward, even if she had to step out of her comfort zone to do it. And Mike, as a lawyer with a keen mind, was valuable in innumerable ways. They worked on this project for an untold number of hours both at home and in Lebanon. Their long commutes did not deter them in the slightest. As is always the case for both of them, their dedication was steady and strong.

All over the country were family members cheering you on and supporting you in different ways. Besides my sisters and me, we are really pleased to have other family members as well. Mike’s daughter, Megan, is here from Washington, DC with her son Murphy, Nancy’s son, Eric, is here from North Carolina and Eric’s son, David is here with his fiancée, Vi,  from Columbus. Raise your hands guys. If there are other Miller descendants here today, please raise your hands too.

It was 19 years from the purchase of the land to the day when the park opened with fanfare in 2013. And now, with 10 years under its belt, it is a gem with all the hallmarks of a community treasure.

Thank you all for creating this very special stage for Mother Nature to shine and for people to indulge in her gifts!

Great Job - Miller Park Team!

Happy 10 Year Anniversary to the Will and Harriet Miller Ecological Park!