Union Interviews: 75 years of togetherness with the Millers of McKinleyville

Jo and Ralph Miller of McKinleyville in the World War II era. Submitted photo

Note: Local historian Michael H. Pazeian recently sat down with long-time McKinleyville residents Ralph and Jo Miller and recorded their oral history. Below is a transcription of the recording, edited for lenghth and clarity. – Ed

Michael H. Pazeian
Special to the Union

Ralph: We had known each other about two years when we married on Dec. 21, 1944. I had been in Samoa working at the mill for about two months when we first met.

Jo: I moved to Arcata with my parents when I was 9 years old from Louisiana. I started school. Some friends brought Ralph over to our house. I was in my senior year of high school, and his uncle’s house where he lived was about quarter mile away. 

I was 17 and he was 19. My parents were very strict with me. I was the oldest of seven so I was in charge of the kids. Ralph’s cousin brought him to the house. 

Ralph: Our first date was later. In those days we didn’t have gas. I had a car but could not get a ticket for the gas [during the Depression and the war gasoline was rationed.] Her dad worked nights, we were chaperoned, but I usually came over in the evenings, I was working at the mill during the day. I took advantage of her father not being home.

Jo: It was a few months before we went to the movies. And we went to what was called The Red Robin. We had a milk shake and a hamburger. 

Ralph: I got in trouble over our first kiss. Her younger sisters tattled to her dad. I faced up to him and said, “If you don’t trust me with your daughter that is fine, I won’t be back.” He said, he was fine with us being together. 

We dated almost another year before I joined the Navy. I came home on leave in December of 1944 and we got married. Then I went overseas.

Jo: We wrote to each other two to three times a week while he was gone. I missed him. I was finishing high school. Graduated in June of 1945. I wanted to finish high school and my parents agreed. After I graduated, I got a job at Daly’s Department Store in Eureka in the shoe department. I was living with Ralph’s brother and sister in Samoa. 

Ralph: I got home to Samoa and the mill was on strike. But, my brother and cousins were working at another mill in Arcata and they hired me. My dad had bought a place with two houses on it. Then they moved back to Colorado. My sister was living in the bigger house, we moved into the “shack” in the back. Three rooms and an outhouse. I eventually made improvements. 

Jo: Ralph is a handyman; I never need to call anyone to fix anything. He finished his Naval service in San Diego and was home in early 1946. 

Our first born, Jerry arrived in November. Our daughter was born in 1948.

THE MILLERS TODAY Jo and Ralph Miller of McKinleyville. Submitted photo

Ralph: I was still at the mill. I was loading flat cars with finished boards. I was doing that for six months. This small mill shut down. 

I went to a larger mill in Arcata and got a job there, doing the same thing. Then I was helping the forklift driver. Then two of us would load a box car – getting 50 cents each per 1,000 board feet. About 20,000 board feet per box car. And we could load two box cars in a day. That was really good money in the 1950s.

Jo: We had a savings account. I was taking care of the money. The Lord was really good to us. He got into management.

Ralph: I was at the Arcata mill for 8 years. Then I was approached by a new yard in Blue Lake, Cal Pacific. I went to work for them. About 1955. 

I started as a forklift operator then eventually became the plant manager. I was there for 25 years. Through our doctor at church we got some land in eastern McKinleyville and I built a house on it in 1958. 

I did a lot of work, communicating to many people to bring water and sewage to that area. Our kids were going to school. Jerry was big in sports. We took a trip to Colorado each summer. 

We have had a good life together.