WESTVILLE — If Shirley “Sammy” Miller had a motto, it would be “Always Room for One More,” according to her son, Tuck Miller.
That willingness to open her home to foster children over the years has resulted in an award for the Westville woman.
She was the grand prize winner in a Mother’s Day contest sponsored by WCIA-TV Channel 3. She was selected as the top winner out of five finalists.
Shirley said she was surprised when she won the top prize in the contest. Drew Wilder with the program ciLiving came to her home in Westville, and on May 11, she and Tuck went to the studio for an interview. That’s when she learned she had won the top honor.
While Shirley is pleased with the award, she stresses that her husband, Harvey, deserves it just as much. The two were a team while taking in 23 foster children from 1967 to 1979. They also started the Vermilion County Foster Parents group in 1968, which is still going today.
In addition, they raised four children — Tuck, Greg and Robin, all of Danville, and Channa Cales of Georgetown.
The prize for the grand winner was a trip to French Lick, Ind.; however, the couple, both nearing 80 years old, decided they didn’t want to be too far from Carle Foundation Hospital, as Harvey has a heart pacemaker. They’re waiting to hear about an alternate prize.
Tuck nominated his mother for the honor in a 100-word essay.
He recalled that when he came home on leave from the Navy, he’d call first to see if there was an open bed. He also joked there were always enough children to make up a baseball team.
The Millers’ life as foster parents through the Department of Children and Family Services began when they took in 7-year-old Brenda, who was seven months older than their daughter, Channa. The two girls became inseparable, and liked to dress alike; people thought they were twins.
One weekend, the Millers had as many 10 children in their home. Every couch and bed were taken.
When Tuck was in junior high school, his mother got her driver’s license, and she’d shuttle the children to and from games. She also kept busy packing sack lunches for school, going through 20 loaves of bread a week.
The foster children followed all the rules and went to church with the family. They were treated the same as the natural-born children.
“We believe in church on Sundays and the golden rule,” Shirley said. “I instilled that in them during the short time they were there.”
Each child got an allowance from the state, which the Millers put into a bank account. The child would get the money when he or she went home.
The Millers were living in Danville when they were foster parents. They gave up their license in 1979, when Harvey retired from the Danville Fire Department, and the couple bought the Oak Grove Motel on U.S. Route 136.
Harvey had worked two jobs while the couple was raising the children.
People think they can’t become fosters parents, Shirley said. “People say, ‘I couldn’t do that. I would be so heartbroken when they go home.’”
That was difficult, but the Millers kept in touch with some of the children, including Mark Foote of Danville and his brother, Loyal, who is deceased. The Foote brothers were with the Millers for four and a half years.
They also were close to their first foster child, Brenda, who is deceased.
Shirley said she hopes people consider becoming foster parents. “If we reached only one person, it would be worth it,” she said.
The Millers will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this August. They keep busy on senior bowling leagues and TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly). They also do volunteer work in the community.
To see the interview with Shirley Miller, go to http://illinoishomepage.net, click on the ciLiving link and then type her name into the search box in the upper right-hand corner.
For information about foster care and parenting, call the Department of Children and Family Services at 443-3200 and ask to speak to a foster care licensing representative.