Calvin: A Life In Stories: Part 7, Georgia

Each Monday for the next several weeks, I will be publishing one section of the biography on my father I created in collaboration with over 30 contributing writers. Each story brings a unique perspective about my father. Last week I shared part 6 of the writing project that focused on my father’s life with his ever-growing family in Lancaster, PA. This week in part 7, the focus is on my father’s life in Georgia, with a special focus on his connection to family. Enjoy!


Introduction (here)
Part 1: Ohio (September 12, 1953 – September 1971) (here)
Part 2: Goshen College (September 1971 – June 1973) (here)
Part 3: Bolivia (September 1973 – September 1976) (here)
Part 4: Ohio State (September 1976 – December 1979) (here)
Part 5: Bolivia Redux (January 1980 – July 1992) (here)
Part 6: Pennsylvania (July 1992 – December 1997) (here)
Part 7: Georgia (December 1997 – July 2004) (below)
Part 8: Italy (July 2004 – December 2015)
Part 9: Virginia (December 2015 – Present)

(DECEMBER 1997 –July 2004)

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Miller moves on
after 14 years with MEDA

By Wally Kroeker for MEDA News

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Perspective of a Father-in-law
By Robert Huston (Father-in-law)

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In our lives, we have many things that are a mystery…and many challenges… and we need all the help we can get.  Sometimes we need a mentor that is really a wise old owl. We have such a person in Calvin Miller.

I, Robert “Grandpa Rocks” Huston, have observed over the years this phenomenon in the way this old owl taught his family in the wisdom of the mystery…and this mystery is that of growing up and raising children. My son-in-law Calvin grew up on a farm and has always been a hard-worker, so it was a trait he wanted to instill in his children. Calvin was always the one who assigned chores in the Miller family, which his boys, sometimes, had a hard time accepting. From a child’s perspective, they thought the chores were mundane or just busy work, but from Calvin’s point of view, it was a life learning experience. Little and big chores really do have value but the boys had a hard time accepting that.

One thing I observed while the Millers lived nearby to my wife Jean and I in Georgia was that their lawnmower kept breaking down. And thus, even the mundane job of mowing and yard maintenance, for some reason, became something to shun. But Calvin expected his boys to do outdoor chores and that included mowing the yard, as well as raking the leaves, chopping wood, or clearing the path in their woods. Sometimes the boys had all afternoon to do these chores, and when this was the case, they typically put them off until right before the owl returned home from work. Smart boys!

One time Michael, Calvin’s oldest son, told me, his grandpa, that when he grew up, he wouldn’t use his back, but rather he would use his brain. Some of the wisdom from the old owl has rubbed off on his grown children and like all stories…this one has a happy ending, as Michael has grown into a hard-worker who only “uses his back” when he wants to.

By Clark Efaw (Colleague at CARE)

My years at CARE with Calvin Miller did have there down side as well as their upside. CARE “divested” of its Agriculture and Natural Resources program in those years; Calvin worked with partners in MEDA and dynamic individuals like Gil Crawford to establish MicroVest, an asset management firm that offers investors a unique global investment opportunity.

Calvin’s dedicated commitment kept the Economic Development Unit’s efforts on track to see through MicroVest’s success; even weathering criticism that microfinance would only serve to add debt to poverty. He managed to establish our rural market and finance initiatives on a solid foundation to where they could be handed off to the next generation of managers who could take them to the next level. From bean markets in Bolivia to Microfinance in Africa, Calvin has always been good at setting worthwhile efforts on a solid foundation and seeing them through to success.

Besides his commitment, I will remember Calvin for his genuine sense of humility, and the respect he has always shown for those around him. This is one of those things that can go right past some people, but I came to CARE from training Peace Corps volunteers for several years, and there I learned to notice small things that people do that matter. Calvin was one of the very few people I have known at CARE (particularly in management) who preferred to share a hotel room while traveling to save CARE money. It’s a practice common to Christian based organizations like Habitat and World Vision, but not so much at CARE. That practice has rubbed off on me, and I have developed a reputation for being unabashedly cheap in managing meetings and workshops.

Some things have changed in the years since Calvin left CARE. Respect and Commitment have been dropped from our core values and replaced with Equality, Diversity, and Transformation. Agriculture is back as strong as ever with CARE. MicroVest is a major player in strengthening local microfinance institutions in low-income communities to fund small enterprises that otherwise would have no access to financing. Our small financing efforts in Africa have given rise to Access Africa, a large sponsor of Village Savings and Loan Associations across Africa.

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So Calvin has left his mark at CARE and in the work it does, though there are few of us left there who knew him personally. CARE seems to make a practice of constantly erasing the very rich body of learning that it has gained over the years through innovation, experience, trial and error, and of losing the experts who generate and know how to use that knowledge. Even though there are no monuments here with Calvin Miller’s name, the change in people’s lives, their access to finance and markets, and the way we work have been changed for the better, and that is as good a testimony as one can have.

Finally, I have to mention that Calvin also had a unique way with words. In particular, I remember him as a master of the mixed metaphor. He could create a sentence that both made perfect sense and absolutely no sense at the same time. I only remember one because it was the only one that I took the time to write down, because it was so rich:  “At the end of the day, we have to bring something to the table that we can stand on or we won’t even be in the ball game.”

Cal Miller Reflection
By Jonathan Larson
(Pastor at Berea Mennonite Church)

A renowned American theologian, invited to address the Mennonite community of Kansas some years ago, startled his audience by saying something like the following: “Of all the measures Mennonites have taken in the pursuit of peace, none is more fruitful or eloquent than the plow.” All around that audience were the prairie fields where abundant winter wheat flourished, providing for the baking of bread across the globe. This vision had deeply impressed the visiting theologian.

This birthright calling that has come to generations of Mennonite farming families in Europe, Russia, and North and South America, has seldom been recognized as the leading edge of an effort whose dream it is to engender non-violent, peaceable living. But a growing body of evidence seems to suggest that there is, indeed, a reciprocal relationship between the bounty farmers win from the earth and civil harmony.

When Cal moved to Atlanta in the 1990s, sharing with us the nature of his work through CARE International, I began to see that the logic of the plow as an instrument of peace was at work in his unfolding passion. Having earlier spent time as a family in Bolivia, learning systems of traditional farming, the economies of everyday households, and having taken the measure of ordinary families and settlements, their aspirations and potential, he had set himself on a path to help shape policies favoring the fundamentals of peaceable – and peace-building – communities not just in the Andes, but around the world. That focus was further sharpened as Cal went on to a role with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Administration in Rome.

It was especially impressive to hear Cal speak about taking these ground-level concerns into the board rooms and offices of high finance, seeking the resources necessary to make plows, fields and households fruitful. It appeared what was making these efforts productive was, yes, the mastery that Cal brought to his firsthand knowledge of what makes a Third World household fruitful, but also the personal authenticity and drive he brought to this peace-building work.

Though it is unlikely that Cal will be recognized as a Nobel laureate for his passionate tireless work, but in a nutshell, he should be recognized as one who strives admirably for a world freer of hunger and desperation, a world that knows a greater measure of peace for his labors. And that would bring a measure of satisfaction to his Mennonite forbears, who seldom realized that the plows they took to their fields were fair instruments of peace.

Eat, Pray, Love – And Serve
By Susan I. Miller (Sister)

Our mother’s last spoken words were addressed to Calvin, “You eat it.” Those words characterize one of the enduring relationships she had with all her children: providing us with nourishing food and delicious desserts. She gave her best, even when it meant that she would sometimes go without her piece of meat or pie, like when Uncle John showed up at mealtime after the pie was cut and the hamburgers were made.

As our beloved Lockport Mennonite Church pastor, Walter Stuckey, said at her funeral in September of 1999, Mother always offered something to eat – a piece of pie or cookies – to visitors. Through the years she hosted extended family members and missionaries frequently, serving Sunday dinners at the dining room table, which could be stretched to fill the room and seat at least 14 people. Those dining experiences in which the boys and men were excused from kitchen duties since they had gotten up early to milk the cows and feed the calves, came to be expected parts of our everyday lives when living at home or traveling back to Mom’s house after moving away.

Calvin lived in Bolivia from ‘73 to ‘76 and again lived there with Jan and their first three children, between ’82 and ’92. Our siblings got together at Mom’s whenever Calvin came home for a visit. When we arrived at night, Mom had sugar cookies and ice cream ready for a snack. Much of our time together centered on gathering at the dining table to enjoy Mom’s cooking.

Memories of these times may have inspired Calvin to make that table and its four matching chairs his first choice when our family met for the last time at Mother’s rural Fayette home in August of 1997 to choose from among the household possessions that she could no longer use as she transitioned to nursing care, first at Heartland of Wauseon and later at Fairlawn Haven in Archbold, Ohio. The dining table has since traveled with Calvin to his homes in Pennsylvania, Georgia; Rome, Italy; and now Virginia. Calvin and Jan continue the tradition of serving family-style meals to visitors from around the world. For example, Jan wrote in her January 1998 letter, “If you ever get to the Atlanta area, consider our home yours.


My family visited with Calvin’s family in Bolivia at Christmas 1990 and early January 1991. We wanted to introduce our children, Geoffrey (age 11), Janell (age 9), and Amy (age 5), to their cousins and to new cultures in South America. My children say that was the best family trip we ever made.

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An eating event I remember clearly was in a tiny place in the Compo (countryside in the Santa Cruz region) that served us chicken soup that included parts of the chicken I never eat at home. Calvin advised us to dip our spoons into the boiling hot soup to sterilize them. Another more positive memory is of eating the most delicious pineapple ever. One of Calvin’s farmer friends gave us slices of the pineapple he had just picked.

I’ve had to admire Calvin’s flexibility in honoring his hosts in many parts of the world by eating and drinking whatever they offer him.  He literally follows the teaching of Jesus to his disciples when he sent them out as missionaries: “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.” – Luke 10:8

Calvin went to Bolivia to serve with Mennonite Central Committee after completing a Study Service Term in El Salvador his sophomore year at Goshen College. “I believe God is calling me to work for Him,” he told Mother. Having taken a bullet in his leg when he unwittingly got between two feuding El Salvadorans magnified his sense of God’s call. “I was spared for a purpose,” Calvin said. As a mother myself, I can imagine how traumatized Mom must have felt when she got a telephone call from Goshen College President J. Lawrence Burkholder who said Calvin had been shot in San Salvador. Calvin recovered from the wound, but his introduction to international living was only just starting as it led him to pursue countless more adventures overseas.

Mom respected Calvin’s call, and willingly let him go, despite knowing he could face other dangers in foreign countries. She gave him her blessing and followed his adventures with interest, daily prayers, and weekly letters. She joined MEDA, as another way to support Calvin’s mission, and she and Leanne made a trip to visit him in Bolivia.

Mom spoke highly of Calvin. She likely didn’t give him direct compliments though, lest he become proud. (Mom had enough Amish in her Mennonite faith to abhor the sin of pride.) An example of how our mother gave compliments happened in 1995. When Mom was visiting me after I had worked on the Peace Factory for the Mennonite conference in Wichita, we went to see the cooperative game that Wayne Swartzendruber had created for the Peace Factory. Wayne told Mom that I was a good peacemaker. Mom deflected the compliment by telling Wayne about Calvin’s mission work.

Our mother communicated her love most directly with her actions. Calvin does both actions and words. I witnessed him giving Mom loving hugs, kisses on the cheek, and saying “I love you,” whenever he greeted her and when he said, “Good-bye.” He telephoned Mother from airports when he traveled abroad.

As the middle brother of my three younger brothers, Calvin likely never experienced being the only child living at home with our mother. Planned as a playmate for David (something my mother told me. Robert, on the other hand, came as a surprise), Calvin had less than 15 1/2 months to be the baby in the family before Bob arrived. Despite having little one-on-one time with each other, Calvin and Mom had a good relationship. Calvin considered Mother his role model and counted on her prayer support.

Calvin honored our Mother by devoting more time with her in her last decade. Calvin’s family moved from Bolivia to Akron, Pennsylvania, where Lucas, the youngest of Mom’s 17 grandchildren, was born. Calvin continued working for MEDA for a total of 14 years.

After years of working in Mennonite development agencies, MCC and MEDA, Calvin punned the question in emails to us, “To CARE or not to CARE, that is the question,” as he discerned with Jan whether to accept work with CARE. Deciding he had surely earned enough Mennonite stars to fill his crown, he accepted CARE’s offer to work in Atlanta, starting in December 1996. His family moved to Stockbridge, Georgia – close to the Atlanta airport from which he would become a frequent flier to many new parts of the world outside the Americas. That’s how he gained the mileage points he shared with me that enabled me to be with him, Bob, and our mother at her last supper.

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On Sunday, September 5, 1999, my siblings had called, urging me to come to see our mother who was readmitted to the hospital after almost recovering from pneumonia. Leanne and Walt had visited Mother on her 82nd birthday (Mother was born at home near Archbold on Labor Day, September 3, 1917, and named after her oldest brother’s teacher, Viola Mary), and stayed when Mom got sick again. Our other siblings were either already there or on their way.

I don’t want to watch Mom die,” I said when I got the call. That was true, but then in the end, I did want to be with her. I remembered Mom telling us about our father’s experience with Grandma Short when she died in November 1954. Right before Grandma’s last breath, she had looked up, smiled, and reached her arms up to Heaven. Would Mom do the same? Or might she recover fully after being medicated with antibiotics to cure her pneumonia, but not given her normal blood-thinning prescription?

On Monday, Labor Day, after picking me up from my flight to Toledo, my brothers took me to the hospital to visit Mom while they went to the Fulton County Fair. I stayed by Mom’s bedside that afternoon, visiting when she was awake, but not yet expressing any deep thoughts. One of the last things we talked about was an old rhyming poem about a blacksmith that one of my sibs had brought a copy of for her. I think the poem was one she had memorized as a child.

Late that afternoon Mom was sitting in a chair with Calvin, Bob and me at her side when a nurse aide gave her an energy shake. We were encouraging her to eat it, but Mom, probably knowing she had no more need for food, offered it to Calvin, saying, “You eat it.” Immediately after she spoke, her head dropped forward as she suffered a stroke. She remained in a coma without eating or drinking for the last 12 days of her life.

Most of us had learned from Mom to use things up, clean our plates, and not waste anything. Our mother used up every ounce of fat in her body before it shut down and she died. The “last supper” shake, however, went uneaten as we went to tell our other siblings and our families about what happened to Mom.

That evening we siblings and Lockport Pastor Allen Rutter gathered around Mom on her bed to pray and possibly bid our mother good-bye. I stayed in the hospital that night and then stayed with Aunt Betty Miller the next four nights before flying back to Kansas on Saturday, September 11. Calvin and Bob each had international business trips scheduled, which they cancelled or postponed after staying with Mom a few days that week. Jan came the next week and accompanied Mom in the ambulance from the hospital (Fulton County Health Center, the facility near the Detwiler Memorial Hospital where David, Calvin, Robert and I were born) to the nursing home after medical interventions were stopped.

While we were all together, we went to Short Funeral Home to plan Mom’s funeral. It was the place we had visited too many times before, especially as young children. Calvin was probably too young to remember the deaths of Grandma Sarah Short in late 1954, our father, John Vernon, on August 11, 1955, Uncle Sylvan Short, in mid 1956 and Grandpa Gideon and Grandma Lena Miller, in mid 1957. Our step great grandmother, Fannie Miller, was the only surviving grandparent we had until her death in 1972.

On the evening of September 17 all our families were back in Ohio. I stayed overnight in Mom’s room at Fairlawn Haven and then in the morning went swimming as a way to relieve my stress in the Fairlawn pool as a guest of cousin Carol King. That evening a group of us went to a pancake supper at the fire station where Chris and Nancy Miles volunteered. The pancakes served as Jean’s September 18th birthday cake.

When we got back to the nursing home, I stayed in Mom’s room until a few minutes before 11 p.m. when a nurse came in to turn Mom. Although I thought of telling the aide it was not necessary, I walked out at that time.  Ironically, several of us were watching the end of a beauty pageant when another nurse came to tell us that our mother had died.

My memories of Calvin from the time of our mother’s stroke to the day of her burial and memorial service at Lockport are of a loving brother who maintained a serious and peaceable presence in the midst of our grief.


JULY 2004 – December 2015)

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