McMillen siblings celebrate their lives
Letha Myers knows first hand what it's like growing up being the only girl in the family.
"I did just about everything they did," she said.
But that didn't mean Myers' three older brothers, Don, Dale and Chet McMillen, didn't make life a little tough for her sometimes.
When the four siblings gathered at Don McMillen's house recently, Myers recalled several stories about what it was like living with her brothers as children, including the time they tried to get her to eat a poisonous plant.
"They told me to eat a wild Indian turnip," she said. "They told me it was a wild potato."
She turned to Chet laughing, "You tried to get rid of me."
But they weren't always hard on their younger sister and spent much of their time looking out for her.
Myers said Don, Dale and Chet would hunt during the winter and spend their fur money on her.
"They bought my first, I can still remember it, bought me my first hat," she said.
Several decades later, as the four siblings prepare for their Sunday afternoon birthday celebration, the memories are still clear and there is no shortage of stories.
Dale, Chet, Don and Myers lived with their parents, Jack and Bertha McMillen, at Stony Point, just southwest of Vinland.
All four remember walking to the Stony Point school daily.
Dale recalled one particular time he had gotten new shoes, which he discovered were uncomfortable to walk in. When he got to school, he took them off and threw them in the coal house only to forget them at the end of school.
By the next day, Dale said a load of coal had been dumped in the coal house, covering his new shoes.
"I don't know how many holes I dug looking for them," he said.
The McMillen family lived at Stony Point until a fire burned their house to the ground. Myers remembered the fire.
"Dad had bought mom a beautiful home cook stove," Myers said. "Mom was getting dinner ready. Mom had a big ham in the oven."
Somehow, she said, the fire began as a result of the stove. While they saved a few things, the family lost almost everything.
The McMillen family moved to Hopewell, where Myers graduated from school. Dale, Don and Chet never finished school because they needed to work.
Don, who turned 90 on Saturday, played baseball as a shortstop for a few years for the Hopewell ball club.
"I played ball all over the state of Kansas," he said.
At one ball game in LeLoup, Don and the Hopewell ball club played against Satchel Page and the Kansas City Monarchs.
Don remembered being the first on the team up to bat against the famous pitcher Page.
"He walked me," he said.
But Don didn't get any farther than first base, because Page immediately picked him off.
"They were fun to watch," he said of the Monarchs. "They could beat any team in the country."
After joining the service in 1942 and spending World War II in Alaska, Don worked for the Santa Fe Railroad for more than 30 years as a crane operator. He spent 15 to 20 years of that time working on the railroad tracks in Baldwin, where he said he got paid a starting wage of 35 cents an hour.
Don married Lucille and had three children.
After retiring in 1971, he laid stone at the Vinland cemetery and devoted much of his time to woodworking. He continues to live in Baldwin.
Dale followed in his father's footsteps when he began working for Douglas County in 1941.
After working on a bridge gang for a couple of months, Dale, who turned 88 on Sept. 24, became a county road grader.
His son, Danny McMillen, said Dale took great pride in his job and was one of the best road graders around.
"He could take that road grader and burn that road to a fine finish," Danny McMillen said.
After 38 years working for the county as a road grader, he retired in 1979.
Dale and his wife Lila, who had one son, have been married for 64 years and still live along U.S. Highway 59, northwest of Baldwin, where they have lived for 40 years. He spends a lot of his time gardening, painting and drawing.
Chet, who turned 85 on July 13, said he's done a little of everything.
He joined the Air Force in World War II and kept diesel motors running for generators in China. He spent a total of 29 months overseas and ended up seeing much of the world.
After the war, Chet worked as a body mechanic and went to body and fender school.
He met his wife, Audra, at a drive-in where she worked, and the two lived in Lawrence until the flood of 1951 when they moved to Baldwin.
After buying a gas station, he bought the Santa Fe Trail Cafe. In 1968 he opened only the third car wash in Kansas, which charged 50 cents for a wash.
In 1969, Chet tore down the Santa Fe Trail Cafe and built a new restaurant called Audra's Dawg House. He said he let highway patrol officers come in and eat at no cost, at least until Chet got a speeding ticket.
"I never charged the highway patrol until I got caught," he said.
He said he was on his way to a Royals game when an officer, one that came into Audra's frequently, pulled him over for speeding. The officer gave him a $20 ticket, even though Chet said the officer knew who he was.
"He never came back in again," Chet said of the officer. "None of them did. I told Audra we made money on the deal."
Chet, who continues to live in Baldwin and work as a cook at Black Jack Diner, said he worked hard, but has good memories.
"Them was the good old days."
Myers, who will be 82 in November, married Eloy Fischer at the age of 17 and had five children. They moved to Kansas City in 1953 where her husband was an engineer on the railroad.
They were a foster family, sometimes having as many as six or seven foster children at a time.
In 1966, her husband died and Myers remarried twice before moving to Denning, Ark., with her husband, Daniel Myers, where she lived for more than 20 years.
After her husband died, Myers eventually moved back to Baldwin in 1995 to live next door to her brother, Don.
"Don was alone and I was alone," she said. "Everybody thought I should move up here."
Myers said she's had a full life.
"I've been around," she said. "I guess it wasn't as exciting as Chet's, but it was to me. It took a lot of work raising five kids."
As the four siblings get ready for their group birthday celebration Sunday, Myers said she's not surprised they are still together, living in the same area, able to reminisce about the days when they were youths.
"We're all stuck together," she said. "We did as kids and here we are still sticking."