ALTON (AP) — As the school year ends at Lovejoy Elementary, a dedicated 96-year-old volunteer is contemplating whether to return next year to help in a classroom, as she has done since 2000.
"I'm not sure," said Meda Miller, who said her declining eyesight is making it harder to read pupils' pencil-written papers. "I would miss (the children). It keeps you alert."
Miller has assisted teacher Kim Laux in her second-grade classroom for more than five years, and sometimes helps a first-grade teacher with her class. Prior to that, she volunteered in other Alton School District classrooms.
"She's wonderful, one of the best, hardest-working volunteers I've seen," Laux said.
"That's what I'm here for," the spritely Miller piped in as a response.
"She's fantastic," Laux said.
Independent, Miller drives from her home in Bethalto to Lovejoy, 1043 Tremont St. in Alton, five days a week during the school year. As a foster grandparent through Senior Services Plus, Miller logs five hours a day at the school, reading to the children and assisting them with their math problems and other classwork.
"I've always liked math," Miller said.
Miller said two friends were foster grandparents and talked her into volunteering in the schools. She admits the children may consider her a great-grandmother, particularly important for those who do not have older family members nearby.
Miller, who had no children of her own, said she grew up in a large family in Greene County and also had many nieces and nephews, so she was used to youngsters.
"I've always been around children," she said this week, unaffected by the noise level rising as the second-graders prepared to leave for physical education class.
She said she particularly likes the first- and second-graders.
"They're eager to get along," she said, and they generally are affectionate with their teacher - and foster grandparent.
Miller said the children are amusing, and there is no predicting what they will say. She only gets frustrated when they keep doing something they are not supposed to do, repeatedly.
Miller retired from the former Montgomery Ward store in Alton in 1982 after 25 years, and always kept busy throughout her long lifetime.
"I've always worked; it's better than sitting at home," she said. "My house is decorated. What am I supposed to do, clean the house? No way."
Miller's husband of 37 years, Andrew, died in 1979 while in his 60s. After that, she traveled and did other volunteer work.
"I couldn't sit at home," she said. "I kept busy. There's always somebody wanting something. I'm in and out of my home. I 'live' in my car."
She thinks keeping so active, plus genetics, is how she nearly is a centenarian. Her mother lived to age 97, her father died at 75, and she looks after her two surviving siblings, who are in their 80s.