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Daughter of Amherst Founder Tells Her Side of the Story – Morning Journal

The bustling little town of Amherst has a rich history, from its infamous founders to current events.

Few Amherst residents remember the town’s early days, but 96-year-old Amherst native Mary Miller does.

Miller was born in 1926 to Fred and Beral Powers. Fred was the first superintendent of the Amherst School District and is considered one of the founders of Amherst.

Back then, the small town was just getting its start, from its historic sandstone buildings to its growing school system.

“Growing up, I had one of my first jobs at a US Automatic, which is now called Nordson, during World War II,” Miller said. “It seemed like a patriotic thing to do and I felt like Rosie the Riveter.

“We had to screw things together that would be part of a bomb, which was cool.”

Miller then worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital before leaving for college.

Miller smiles as he talks about the downtown climax on Saturday night.

“All the shops downtown were open late on Saturday night because the farmers were coming into town to sell,” she recalls. “Everyone from all over Amherst came to town to see each other and hang out.

“Even us kids who had just seen each other at school on Friday would be so excited to hang out together.”

Miller not only contributed to his own life, but also that of fellow Amherst legend Marion L. Steele.

“She was a farm girl,” Miller says. “She walked to school every day from her home on Middle Ridge Road, and she made it a point to do healthy things like walking every day.”

Steele would go on to become principal of Powers School downtown.

“(Steele) was very independent and had this way of her that if you were called into her office for a misdemeanor, she would tell you she was very disappointed and enough was enough right now,” Miller said.

Although she is the daughter of Fred Powers, Miller said she is not often left behind when things go wrong.

“I was often in his office for all sorts of things,” she said. “The superintendent thought my teachers wouldn’t send me to the office because of my dad, but they did – and I deserved it sometimes.”

Friends with Steele

Miller grew up being friends with Steele’s older matron, studying her life story as history was being made, and even played the organ at her funeral in June 1973 at the he then-Amherst United Congregational Church of Christ at 379 S. Main St. Steele was 85 when she died.

“She never married,” Miller said. “She had a pretty serious boyfriend for a little while there, but I think he died in World War I, and she never really started dating again after that.

“She had lots of friends and traveled overseas several times, bringing him to laugh and smile with her. She was a power woman and many young women today can learn a lot from her.

Besides Steele, Miller befriended teacher Maude Neiding and even knew relatives from the Harris and Nord families, whose names have remained famous in the historic downtown area.

Perhaps one of Miller’s fondest memories involves an impromptu trip to New York in the fall of 1945.

“My friend and I had just graduated from high school and wanted to go to New York,” she said. “Mr. Nord’s son-in-law owned a hotel there and rented out rooms, so we were able to get a room.

“While we were there, we met a young sailor from Ohio who had just returned from work on a PT boat in the English Channel. He took us to Sammy’s Bowery Follies, which was in Life Magazine a few months later.

Miller laughs as she remembers seeing herself with her friend and the sailor in a photo taken from the Bowery that ran in Hollywood.

Miller, although not as active as she once was, continues to bring history to life through her in the form of her granddaughter Emily Marty, who along with her husband, Russ, continues to to honor the history of Amherst schools through their work with the Amherst Historical Society.

Miller continues to serve as a role model for young women today as she did in the 1940s through her adventures and experiences proving that young women were just as capable as men in the not so distant past.