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Phil Perry/Coal Valley NewsMadison resident Rose Shirkey Miller will turn 102 on December 28.

MADISON - When a Madison woman learned that the Coal Valley News wanted to interview her for a story celebrating her birthday on Dec. 28, she didn't think 102 years was all that big of a deal.

"Oh, it isn't that special," said Rose Shirkey Miller. " I'm doing pretty good, you know."

While Rose may downplay the significance of her long life, her stories and memories of the way things used to be would say otherwise. She moved to Boone County for good in 1940, a year after she married Frank Miller.

"I didn't have a desire to go to Charleston because everything we needed was right here in Madison," she said. "This was a very busy city. Ellis' and Haddad's department stores were booming and boy, how things have changed."

Rose is supposed to use a walker around the house but her daughter, Karen Miller Roberts, said she catches her mother walking around without it.

"She'll go into the next room and she won't be using it and I'll catch her," she said. "She is independent and head strong. She wants to get up and clean house all the time."

Rose said she always took pride in her home.

"I always kept a clean house and I still try," she said. "I always thought that work served me well all these years. I need to move. I don't want to sit all the time."

Through the years, Rose has kept many of the birthday cards that have been given to her. She pulls out a large bundle from a drawer with a rubber band around it.

"I just love cards," she said. "Years ago, we would cut out the pictures on the cards and make pretty things out of them. They're so beautiful. It's a shame to waste them."

She made many of the clothes that her children wore.

"I'd cut out a picture from a Sears catalog and Mom would make it just like the photo," said Karen. "She could really sew and they always fit perfectly."

Rose was born in 1916 in Sylvia, a small, unincorporated community in Raleigh County that is now part of east Beckley.

"There were eight of us kids including me," she said. "I have one brother (George Shirkey) who is still living and he is in Florida. He was the baby and he is 87."

Their parents were John and Stella Sharpe Shirkey; Stella, herself, came from a family of 11 children, so perhaps it's no surprise she went on to have a large family.

"There were times that we had two beds in each room," Rose said of her growing-up years. "It was a small house, but it didn't seem small to me back then. There was a gang of us, I guess."

Her family lived near Logan when she started school. She went to school in Clothier, where the school had indoor plumbing - a luxury at the time. She graduated from Sharples High School in 1933.

As a young child, she remembers the Battle of Blair Mountain. The conflict occurred in Logan County, where labor tensions rose between workers and coal mine management, and continued for five days from late August to early September 1921.

"I can remember seeing all of the men riding through town going to Blair Mountain and it was a big thing. I was young, but I remember watching all of the people," she said. "We had briefly lived in Nellis and moved to Clothier around the time that was going on. My dad had gotten a job in Logan County."

Rose remembers going to Blair Mountain after the conflict and picking up shell casings, bullets and even arrowheads with her siblings.

She was married in 1939 to Frank Miller. Her late son Frank was born in 1941 and Karen in 1945.

"We had two and that was it," Rose said with a laugh. We didn't have a big family."

Rose's father-in-law and Karen's grandfather was Manderville Tilden Miller, who served as a West Virginia State Senator in 1928. He was born in Low Gap. The Rev. Miller was married to Flora Roberts Miller. He pastored and began many churches in Boone County. The state Senator paid for the bell that is perched in the Boone County Courthouse. It rang daily and could be heard throughout Madison.

"I used to go out in the front yard when I was little and wait for it to ring at 9 o-clock because it reminded me that my grandfather - I never met my grandfather, but he bought that bell," Karen said.

Rose had cold feet when she was on her way to her own wedding. She and Frank were traveling to Kentucky with another couple, who were tying the knot on that same day.

"Halfway there she told my dad that she wasn't sure she was ready to get married," said Karen. "Dad told her that she was getting married because he had already bought the furniture."

Frank worked for local movie theaters in those days. They were perched in Van, Wharton, Danville, Madison, Seth and Whitesville, among other small towns including Logan County.

The couple lived in an apartment in Madison while their house was being built on Rucker Street. They paid $5 per month in rent. She still lives in the house they had built. Karen was born in the house, six months after the construction was finished.

"Oh, so many memories here," Rose said. "This used to be a busy street, believe it or not. You could have fresh milk delivered to your door for a dime then. Ham was 10 cents a pound, too."

Rose said when bread was first made to sell locally it was incredibly popular, but when it became available pre-sliced, it was what everyone was talking about.

"Everyone made their own bread before that," she said.

When Karen was in the eighth grade, her father Frank was diagnosed with hemochromatosis. It was very rare in the 1960s. The condition comes from the body producing too much iron. Today, there are several types of the disease.

Frank had to have his blood withdrawn twice per week. When he was diagnosed, his blood was sent off to California and it was detected. Frank lived until he was 75 and passed in the early 1990s.

Frank owned a pool hall in Madison throughout the 1960s and part of the 1970s.

Frank and Rose also owned Andy's Restaurant for some time, but it was a shorter-lived venture. Rose cooked but disliked owning the business.

"I like to cook but I'm not good with crowds and I just never liked it and I was happy when we sold it," Rose said. "I absolutely hated it."

If a member of the family had a birthday, she'd bake their favorite sweet treat.

"Karen liked cherry pie and Frank like graham cracker pie," she said. "Frankie (son) liked it all."

Rose loves birds and has had several as pets. There are six of them buried just below her kitchen window.

She has one as a trusted companion today.

She drove well into her 90s but when her vision began to fail, she put up her keys forever.

"I was always fond of the Oldsmobiles and the Buicks," she said. "Those were my favorite cars I had. I loved to drive, and I miss it."

The Madison resident was born with a medical condition that prevents her from producing tears. She said she went her entire life without crying until the death of her son.

"When we all filed around my brother's casket, I saw her rubbing her eyes over and over," said Karen. "Her cheeks were wet and I saw tears pouring down her cheeks - it never happened again."

Rose remembers that day. "I've never had any tears, but I did on that day," she said.

In 2011, Rose was alone at home and fell. She crawled from the kitchen to the living room and managed to call her daughter and told her that she thought she had broken her neck. She was correct, it was broken in several places. The doctors told her that it was a miracle that she survived so many breaks. Today, Karen spends most of her time with her mother.

Tragically, while Karen was with her ailing mother, she lost her home in a fire. Most tragically, her son - Rose's grandson - Rodney Roberts died in the fire at 32 years old.

"We think about him every single day," Karen said. "The only thing that saved me was my mother needing me here. I would have likely died as well."

The fan of Dean Martin and Perry Como loves the game of football and follows the West Virginia University Mountaineers. If their games are on cable, she doesn't miss it.

"I'll only watch WVU," she said. "They had me upset on Saturday (loss to Oklahoma State)."

She said her life has seen both tragedy and joy but she is happy for every day that she has. She attributes her faith and "staying busy" as her keys to a long, healthy life. Well, that and a good crossword puzzle with large print and her favorite treat - homemade raisin pie.

"I've lived a hard life but I've lived a good life," she said. "I just keep on going, you know."

Rose is a member of Madison Baptist Church.

Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at pperry@hdmediallc.com.

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