May 6, 2002
Sno-Valley Senior Howard Miller wins Generations United 'Hand-in-Hand' award
by Dorothy E. Dubia
Special to the Valley View
Howard Miller, 86, of Carnation has a huge collection of stamps. And, thanks to his huge heart, he has a large collection of fans, too.
Howard's fans come in all ages, but they're particularly abundant among elementary school-age children Ð about 1,300 of them, in fact. That's how many students Howard has worked with in the six years he's been visiting elementary school classrooms monthly to share his collection and his love of collecting. At schools, he's known as "The Stamp Man."
An active community member and volunteer in Carnation for the past 60 years, Howard's intergenerational outreach will be recognized May 9 when he receives a Hand-in-Hand Award from Generations United of King County. The award recognizes outstanding efforts to link generations for a better community. It will be presented during the Intergenerational Festival at the Seattle Center. The festival begins at 10:30 a.m.
Lisa Yaeger, director of the Sno- Valley Senior Center, and Michele Iverson, an AmeriCorps member who creates intergenerational programs at the center, nominated Howard for the award.
"We nominated Howard because he has been an active community volunteer for more than 60 years and deserves recognition for all he does," said Yeager.
"Howard is extraordinary," she added. "He arrives at 7 a.m. daily to set the breakfast tables and then assumes a shift as our volunteer receptionist."
Howard also volunteers at the Seattle USO, where he serves on a midnight to 4 a.m. shift three times a month.
But it's the kids and the stamps that bring the extra sparkle to his eyes.
"Howard is so special and so dedicated to the children," said Iverson, who creates intergenerational programs at the center as a member of the Intergenerational Innovations AmeriCorps team. Intergenerational Innovations is a nonprofit devoted solely to connecting children and elders in service. "He's persistent, too. For six years, he has never failed to visit the classrooms, bringing the children that special stamp they requested."
"I get a real enjoyment out of interacting with the children and finding out what subjects they're really interested in and then giving them a particular stamp out of my collection," said Miller. "I love the look on their faces when I share my stamps with curious and excited kids."
Sometimes the request isn't that easy to fulfill. "One time," he explained, "I had a student who was interested in spiders, but I didn't have a single stamp in my collection with a spider. I turned to my stamp-collecting friends, and was really anxious until a stamp arrived in the mail a day before I was going to see the kids again. Believe you me, it was worth it to see the excitement on that child's face when he saw the spider stamp. That's the best reward of all."
Howard's stamp collection created a connection with children about six years ago when he started visiting Patsy Hoefel's second grade class at Carnation Elementary School. Those visits have resulted in about 230 children learning about stamps and stamp collecting and stimulating children's interest in other subjects every year. Wrote one student, "Thank you, Mr. Miller. I love the old airplane stamp you gave me, I really liked it because I found out how old it is. It was over 90 years old!"
Howard became interested in stamps in the sixth grade when a fellow student at Stevens Elementary School in Seattle introduced him to the hobby. The interest contained through college at the University of Washington where he acted as senior coxswain for the UW rowing team. In 1938, Howard moved to Carnation, and opened Miller's Clothing Store. Active in the community with his wife, Marion, Howard was a Cub Scout leader over a period of 23 years and even today bumps into an "old" man who reminds him that Howard was his leader.
Howard retired from his clothing store at the age of 75, but remained active in the community, especially with the Sno-Valley Community Center, where he broadened his stamp collecting outreach by joining a Stamp Club last year. In addition to his monthly classroom visits, the new club links other seniors with Millie Sheppard's home school class, which ranges from first to ninth graders.
While the students have learned a lot through Howard's stamp collection, he's learned a lot, too. "One thing I learned for sure is never underestimate a kindergartner!"
He learned this lesson while providing the students with stamps of people about whom they would be writing biographical sketches. The categories were science and medicine and adventurers and explorers.
"I thought about it and decided to bring in stamps about Santa Claus and Disney characters, thinking that the kindergartners wouldn't get very much out of the other categories."
He learned he was wrong. After class, two boys came up to him. "One boy said, 'Mr. Miller, you did not give us the stamps we asked for!' The other boy looked at me in the eye and said, 'You don't think we're as smart as we really are!' They had their stamps the next day."
About the award he is about to receive, Howard said modestly, "It's a wonderful honor and I'm delighted at how the students accept me. You know," he adds, "at school, they call me the 'Stamp Man.'"