For more than three-quarters of a century, Margaret and Paul Miller were the leading recycling couple of Kansas — the Pro Kansas Miller Recycling Center at 725 E. Clark carries their names.
She published a recycling and environmental newsletter for many years and in 1985 she helped found the Citizens Utility Ratepayer Board, the state agency charged with protecting consumers' interests in public utility issues. Not long after, National Geographic magazine featured her and her husband’s recycling efforts. She was soon nicknamed “Mrs. Recycling.”
Margaret Miller died Wednesday. She was 98.
A memorial gathering will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Wichita Public Library auditorium, 223 S. Main.
Margaret Thompson was born Jan. 5, 1919, in Coffeyville. When she was 8, her family moved to Independence. And, in 1936, she graduated from Independence High School as the class valedictorian. In 1938, she graduated from the Independence Junior College, where she had been a member of the state debate team. She then graduated from the Kansas State Teachers College in Pittsburg in 1940.
Like many of her generation, Mrs. Miller was shaped by poverty and hunger.
She grew up during the Great Depression, when children often ate while their parents watched because there wasn’t enough food to go around. They learned not to waste.
“It was a powerful influence for that whole generation,” said her son, Tim Miller. “She told a story more than once how she cried because they were so poor they could never have ice cream. One time, her mother finally told her, I’ll give you a nickel and let you go get ice cream. It was so hard for her to get any luxury in life.”
And as she grew older and became prosperous, she never indulged herself with luxury. She supported good causes.
She and her husband were both able to attend college through the National Youth Administration, which had been created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The two were able to do campus work programs for 25 cents an hour.
Mrs. Miller would teach at Thayer and several Wichita public schools and at Wichita State University. She earned her master’s degree from WSU in 1964.
Her husband, Paul, recalls they would always save other people’s castoffs.
“I ran the alleys and picked up any kind of iron and brass to sell,” he said. “People today can’t realize what it was like to save a penny in those days. It was grim and miserable.”
They survived, in the beginnings, on $15 a month.
“Margaret said she never ate breakfast while in college and for lunch she would split half a can of beans with her roommate and that was the end of it. That was the way it was. Thing is, most everybody else was in the same way. You were hungry a lot.”
She met Paul when they both taught school in Thayer. He, math; she, English. He was smitten.
“It was her intelligence,” Paul told The Eagle last year when the couple celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. “I had a few girlfriends before, and most of them were airheads. She’s a real brain. I am very much impressed by her general knowledge and intelligence. I decided I wanted to take up with her. That’s why we chased each other. It was a mutual type of thing.”
She was impressed with his grammar.
The couple were later married at her family home in Independence.
Mrs. Miller volunteered with the Sierra Club and, in 1990, became the first recipient of what is now the Bill Ward Award for environmental achievement by the Kansas Natural Resources Council.
She also protested the building of nuclear power plants, volunteered for after-school tutoring, Braille transcription, consumer advocacy and at the Wichita Public Library. She also served on the AARP State Legislative Committee on consumer issues.
In 1989, the couple helped form Sedgwick County Citizens for Recycling; the Pro-Kansas Miller Recycling Center opened in 2004 near Pawnee and Broadway.
In 2013, the couple received the Inter-Faith Ministries Peace by Piece Humanitarian Award.
Mrs. Miller is survived by her husband, Paul; children Timothy, Michael, Gretchen and Jeffrey; six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and a sister, Virginia Jones.
Memorial donations can be made in her name to the Wichita Public Library Foundation, 223 S. Main, Wichita; the Margaret J. Miller Scholarship at Pittsburg State University Foundation, 401 E. Ford, Pittsburg, KS and to the Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice at 313 S. Market, Wichita.