It seemed oddly fitting that Gloria Miller died May 7, the day of Powderhorn Park’s annual May Day parade.
Miller, as a longtime resident of the Powderhorn neighborhood in Minneapolis, hosted backyard potlucks before the parade for 40 years at her home on Bloomington Avenue.
“Dozens of people came to her house to participate, eat and watch the parade from her front yard,” said sister Judy Cooper Lyle of Minneapolis.
An unsung hero of south Minneapolis, Miller was a board member of the Powderhorn Community Council. Her neighborhood projects included the first assisted living high-rise in Minneapolis to keep public housing residents out of nursing homes (the Signe Burckhardt Manor), apartments for people with multiple sclerosis and newly constructed homes for first-time homeowners.
“She wanted to make Powderhorn a place for all,” said Linda Berglin, PCC board member and former member of the Minnesota Senate and House. “She followed current events and she definitely had opinions, but she had a calm personality and did not get into arguments.”
Shari Alpers of Minneapolis said she saw Miller as a role model for people moving into neighborhoods with affordable housing. She and her husband moved to Powderhorn in 1985 and heard gunshots at night. They stuck it out, thanks in part to Miller and her late husband, Lon.
“Because of people like them, I became active in the neighborhood, and so did a lot of other young people. Widespread involvement made the neighborhood better,” Alpers said.
Early in her career Miller was a junior high art teacher in Great Falls, Mont., and Thief River Falls, Minn. When she and Lon moved to Minneapolis in 1972, the job market for art teachers was tight, so she tutored in public schools and gave private instruction. Justin Page was one of her students in elementary and middle school. “She had so much influence on his life,” said his mom, Diane Page. “Justin turned out to be an attorney with the Disability Law Center. He really depended on her.”
Later on she read scholarship applications to the Page Education Foundation for students of color. “In our last conversations together, she talked about adding a Little Free Library in her yard [a free book exchange in a wooden box]. She didn’t think there were enough of them in her neighborhood,” said Cooper Lyle.
Miller’s yard and garden were a source of great joy for her. There were multiple varieties of roses, many of them prize winners for Miller. “I have a whole bag of blue ribbons that she won over the last 20 years,” said Cooper Lyle. She won “Best in Show” and the “Horticulture Trophy of Excellence” at the Tri City Flower Show.
Steve Pundt of Minneapolis worked with Miller for 20 years on the board of the Friends of the Wildlife Garden, a volunteer group to assist the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.
“Her focus was supporting the garden for the public. She believed it should be accessible to everyone,” he said. A quiet, natural garden that’s less formal than many, it was a place where Miller wanted teachers to bring students, an idea for which she even found scholarship money.
“She called the garden her favorite place to get peace. It was heaven on Earth to her,” said Pundt.
Miller, 76, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. She was preceded in death by her husband, her parents Phyllis and Ray Cooper, sisters Shirley Cooper and Dorothy Vangrud and brother Rodney Cooper. She is survived by her sister Judy Cooper Lyle and her brother Gary Cooper of Jamestown, N.D.
A memorial service will be held in July.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633