The End of an Era–Wendell A. Miles

My great uncle, the Honorable Wendell A. Miles, passed away last week at the age of 97.  He was the younger brother to my grandfather, Frederick T. Miles.   I always referred to him as my uncle Wendell, even though technically he was my grand or “great” uncle.  It just always seemed to roll off the tongue better to call him uncle Wendell.

uncle wendell

Both my grandpa and my uncle Wendell were judges and their father (also named Fred) was a also a judge.

My grandpa died in 1989 and my grandmother had died in the early 1980’s, so I didn’t see much of my uncle Wendell after that.  It seemed like we had just gone our separate ways as extended families sometimes do.  But I always held my uncle Wendell in high regard.  To me, my uncle was almost a mythic character, yet I was related to him, and this made him extra special.  When I was young, I remember family gatherings where he would be at and I noticed this man with absolutely bright white hair.  A whole shock of hair that was as bright as the brightest silver you could imagine.  I was always told that his hair used to be dark and his hair turned white when he was in World War II.  “Just like that,” I thought, “Your hair can turn white because of the stress of war.”  It  made him a hero to me for some reason.

In 2009, my mother made me aware that uncle Wendell’s wife, Mariette, had passed away and their was a funeral for her.   I decided to pay my respect to the family by attending that winter day. It was there (after nearly 20 years) that I was reacquainted with my uncle and his family.  During his eulogy, uncle Wendell shared a heart-warming history of the love of his wife and how they met in Alsace, France when he was a captain for the US in WWII.  This, of course, only added to the mythic quality of a man that I had grown up admiring. “How cool is that?  My uncle met a woman from France to be his wife.”  I always enjoyed the way Mariette spoke, and perhaps this familial link is why I took two years of French in high school and one semester at CMU.

This re-introduction to the Miles side of my family led me to request an interview with my great uncle.  I was very curious to hear stories of my grandfather and other members of my family that had passed on.  I invited my dad to come with me, and for nearly two hours one day at the Federal Building in downtown Grand Rapids, Wendell shared the history of the Miles family as far back as the mid-1800’s to the present day.  What a joy that was for my heart.  Even more so for my dad.  Here was my great uncle, 93 at the time, as sharp as a tack and as verbose as ever.   I videotaped the interview and now have our Miles Family History saved to a DVD and have shared it with several other close relatives.

It was shortly after this reacquaintance that I was invited by the family to give the internment ceremony at the graveside for Mariette.  What an honor it was to prepare a service for the family!   And a bit scary too as I had never done any kind of funeral before.  They had planned the internment at the cemetery for later in the summer of 2009, even though her funeral was earlier in the year.  This allowed several of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be there from different parts of the country.

For many years growing up, I looked up at my grandpa and my great uncle as great men who possessed great wisdom.  I was proud to be a Miles (and still am).  Wisdom is a good thing, but one thing that I also felt from them was love.  Not everyone may have felt love from these men. Certainly many of the criminals they tried probably would beg to differ with me on this.  They felt the hand of justice.  But I can say this with a whole heart–that these men were men of dignity and truth and did what is best for our community, our state and, in the case of Wendell A. Miles, our nation.

No other children of Frederick T. Miles or Wendell A. Miles went into the legal system.  In that way, it is the end of an era in our family. However, I know for sure that their legacy does and will continue to live on through their offspring to bring truth and justice to our everyday worlds. And in so doing, make our own good dent in this great country of ours.

I bid you Adieu, Uncle Wendell.  I’ll miss you and your bright white hair and many other great qualities that I hope to hear about in Heaven someday.  Enjoy your time with Mariette.






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