The 17 Miller children from Marysville, Ohio, were all healthy, strapping farm kids except for No. 14, Russ. At six months, his mother noticed something unusual about the way he moved. The tragic diagnosis: cerebral palsy. Doctors said he would never walk, but Russ was not the kind of kid who could be kept an invalid down on the farm. “We had two windows in the house, one on each end. My brothers and sisters would tie two ropes between the windows and make me walk from one to the other,” he recalls. After treatment at a center in Columbus run by the Easter Seal organization, Russ made so much progress that he was chosen, at age 6, to be the National Easter Seal child.
That was in 1950. Today, Miller, 35, is getting ready to plant some raspberry bushes (he already has peach, pear and cherry trees) on the family land he inherited. And when the 1979 Easter Seal telethon airs this weekend, Miller will watch from the new ranch-style house he planned and helped build. With him will be his wife, Carolyn, and their son Rusty, 10. “I’m just glad that I could be one of the ones to come this far,” he says.
Getting this far entailed one ordeal after another. During his teenage years, Russ suffered through four painful leg operations. Between hospital stays, he went to school, helped with the chores, learned to run a tractor and earned his driver’s license. When he decided he was ready, Miller landed a job, after a long search, with the Franklin County Commissioners. At first, he operated a water pumping station and later became a parking lot attendant. But last summer, after almost 10 years on the jobs, Miller tripped and aggravated an arthritic condition. Unable to sit or stand for any duration without pain, he was forced to retire. Did anyone notice? October 20,1978 was declared Russ Miller Day in Columbus.
He would prefer to have a job, but Miller has a pension and will keep busy with his orchard and “doing some fishing this spring.” Looking back on his struggle, he says: “If I had to do it over again, I would give my all to help parents realize that a lot can be overcome.”