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1961 Peace Corps volunteer to mark Corps' 50th birthday in Washington

ST. PETERSBURG

Growing up in a St. Petersburg home with rigid, reclusive parents, Susan Miller was never allowed to stray too far. The farthest she ever got into the world wasn't much beyond her college campus. She craved adventure. The day before she graduated from Florida State University, she took the exam to join the Peace Corps. She wanted to join not so much for the sake of peace but for her freedom, her dreams.

While in school, she became close with a group of friends from Thailand. She grew to love Thai culture.

"I was going to go over to Thailand on my own, but then I heard about the Peace Corps," Miller said.

She waited several nerve-racking weeks before the phone rang. The Peace Corps wanted her in the Philippines. She insisted on Thailand but was told there wasn't a program there.

"I'll wait,'' she said.

Three weeks later, Miller was on a plane to Thailand. She was part of the first wave to join the Peace Corps in 1961.

Miller, now 76, has another trip in her future. In September she'll travel to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary.

• • •

For two years, Miller taught English at a small girls training school in Songkhla, a town in the southern part of the country.

She loved to teach. She loved her students.

"I had the ideal assignment."

Songkhla had beautiful beaches but was a Third World society. People ate grasshoppers, silkworm larvae. Miller stayed in a room at the school where she taught.

She fell in love with the culture more each day.

The same year she arrived in Thailand, she decided she would adopt a Thai baby with her then-husband, Wilhelm, a professor at the University of Hawaii. She visited the local hospital.

There, across the room, was a 10-month-old baby standing in her crib, babbling, grinning, cooing at her.

"I had no idea how I felt about children before I saw her," Miller said. "We were meant to be together."

They named her Siri.

• • •

Miller stayed in Thailand for three more years after completing her term with the Peace Corps.

In 1965, she ventured to Kabul, Afghanistan, where she taught English to young men in government ministries. She was hired by the United States Information Agency.

Before settling back in St. Petersburg, Miller adopted another child named Mei Li, lived in the Arizona desert, got divorced and remarried.

About four months ago, her husband, Merton Miller, died. They were married about nine years.

Today, Miller spends her time writing novels. She recently completed her first, Desert Fireflies, and is working on her second, The Outlaw's Child. Her novels are connected to her love of the Arizona desert and the West.

Miller says her Peace Corps stint prepared her for what came later.

"Because of it, I was always ready for an adventure."

Sabrina Rocco can be reached at srocco@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8862.

FAST FACTS

Corps' mission

The Peace Corps began in 1960 with John F. Kennedy encouraging citizens to serve in other countries to promote world peace and unity. Since then more than 200,000 volunteers have signed up to serve in 139 countries. To learn more, visit peacecorps.gov.

1961 Peace Corps volunteer to mark Corps' 50th birthday in Washington 06/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 18, 2011 4:31am]
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