Thoroughly Modern Millie

by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen you see Amelia "Millie" Minelli in her East Spokane neighborhood, you might guess that she's about 80 years old. But you'd be off by a generation -- Millie's daughter turned 80 this year. Millie herself just hit the century mark.

"I was born June 3, 1908," she says. "I grew up next door, in the four-room house my dad built when he and my mother got married. We had vegetable gardens in front, and chickens and rabbits -- we had everything we needed."

To put the timeframe into perspective, consider: Henry Ford rolled out his first Model T in 1908. Here in Spokane, the Olmsted Brothers submitted their plan for the city's park system. May Arkwright Hutton wrote a letter to the editor supporting women's suffrage, but Washington women wouldn't gain the vote for two more years.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & illie is the eldest daughter of Italian immigrants Michael Adams (formerly Adamo) and Rose Gagliardi, who arrived separately in Spokane in the first few years of the 20th century. Her father had a barbershop in downtown Spokane; her grandfather -- Rose's father -- worked for the railroad. At home and among friends, everybody spoke Italian.

"I didn't talk English when I first went to school," she says. "The teacher asked what my name was, and I shrugged my shoulders, and so the kids all started to laugh. And I started to cry."

Millie's teacher spent extra time with her every day until she was comfortable speaking in English, and she became a good student -- so good, in fact, that she skipped eighth grade. "I studied hard," she says. "Those other kids laughed at me once, but I decided they're not going to laugh again."

She also had talent in sewing. After a short stint at Lewis and Clark High School, Millie took a job working in a tailor shop downtown. "I got paid $4 a week, for working six days a week," she says.

Nearby, another young recent immigrant named Roger Minelli was working in a shoe repair shop. He spied young Millie on his lunch hours and made inquiries within the Italian community. An introduction was arranged. The two were married on November 29, 1925.

"We got married young but we stayed married," she says. "I was married 51 years."

Roger bought his own shoe repair shop at Howard and Second, and he and Millie worked side by side for 26 years. Millie sewed on buckles, stitched up split seams and dyed shoes. She also visited the half-dozen shoe retailers that contracted with Roger for repairs.

"I had to go around and drop off the shoes that were done and pick up the ones that needed to be repaired," she says. "I walked 34 blocks every day for 26 years."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & t 100, Millie doesn't claim to hold any secrets to longevity. "Somebody said maybe it was all the hard work [we] did, and all the walking," she says. "Maybe."

The walking probably helped, along with good genes, but the secret is likely found in Millie's easy smile and in the simple joy of relationships. She goes to church and to bingo; she plays cards and talks to her sister Eleanor several times a day. She loves telling stories about the early years.

"Those were good times then," she says. "We got through it. We're still here."

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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