Rilla Nelson Miller died on July 25, 2023, at her home in Mesa, AZ. She had recently celebrated her 100th birthday with cherished family and friends. Her death came one day prior to the 20th anniversary of her husband’s death.
Rilla was born on July 1, 1923, to Chloe Amelia Palmer Nelson and Hyrum Vance Nelson in the family home in Binghampton (near Tucson). She was the sixth of eventually 13 children. The family’s circumstances were modest, characterized by hand-me-downs, reliance on the family cow and garden, and the wits and tireless endeavors of loving parents. Rilla was a devoted student and graduated from Tucson High School in 1941, followed by employment at Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Co. and later by the Tucson Unified School District. At the same time, a common religious affiliation (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) resulted in a budding relationship with Harold Miller, an ROTC student at the University of Arizona.
Harold’s enlistment in the US Army Air Corps was followed by an assignment to pilot training. Before departing, he proposed marriage to Rilla, and, in short order, they were married in their church’s Arizona Temple in Mesa on April 25, 1944. They were living in Lawrenceville, IL, when Rilla’s first pregnancy was confirmed. Harold, Jr. (Hal) was born in March, 1945. Following the end of WWII, Lt. Miller was discharged, and the family moved to Mesa, where Sheryle and Vance were born. In 1951, the Korean War brought Harold’s recall into what had become the US Air Force. The family made their way to his new post in Anchorage, AK (which was Ronni’s birthplace) by car on the largely unpaved Alaska-Canada (Alcan) Highway. This move was the first in a 25-year odyssey of subsequent moves to Texas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, New Mexico (Terri was born in Albuquerque), California, and Florida. They returned to Mesa when Harold’s military career ended. He constructed their final residence there.
Rilla’s upbringing amid the demands of a large family, her career as a full-time homemaker, and her unwavering religious faith framed a life in which she resisted the spotlight, championed her husband and children, and, in thoughtful and generous ways, graced the lives of untold others, especially children. Her ready smile and reassuring voice bespoke readily given love. She pushed through trials as a cancer survivor and as Harold’s primary caregiver during his 20-year diminishment by Parkinson’s disease. Along the way, she was an avid bowler, a devoted puzzler, a devout Diamondbacks and Suns viewer, and a steady influence for good as a neighbor. Her children and their families knew her generosity directly on birthdays and other holidays. For years until her death, she sang an alto rendition of “Happy Birthday” over the phone to her children and grandchildren alike, prompting moistened eyes and pulling particular heartstrings.
Predeceasing Rilla were her husband, her parents, and eight of her siblings. Her children survive her, as do 25 grandchildren, 72 great grandchildren, and one great great grandchild. There will be a public reception in her honor on Friday, August 11, 6:00-8:00 p.m. in the Garden Chapel at Bunker Mortuary, 33 North Centennial Way, Mesa, and another on Saturday, August 12, 9:00-9:45 a.m. in the church meetinghouse at 1911 North 24st Street, Mesa. The funeral will begin at 10:00 a.m. in that same location, followed by a graveside gathering at the Mesa City Cemetery, 1212 North Center Street.
Services may be viewed using this link: https://zoom.us/j/97277506831
In her final decade, Rilla was homebound and primarily attended to by Sheryle Crisp and husband Randy, then, in her final years, by Terri Wilkins, Ronni Cooley and husband Chris, and granddaughter Shelly Wilkins Smith and husband Jaron. Prominent in Rilla’s professional care in recent years were Jenny and Chris Davis and, most recently, hospice specialists Rebecca, Eileen, Lisa, and their occasional substitutes. Each one has the enduring gratitude of Rilla’s posterity.