Faces of Page: Arleen Miller

Arleen Miller was born in Waterflow, New Mexico, at her grandmother’s house, near Shiprock. One week later, her parents brought her back to Arizona where she lived in different trading posts until they moved to Tuba City in 1950.  She loves the beauty of the people and the scenery of northern Arizona, and she prefers the remoteness of the area to the more densely populated regions.

Growing up in Tuba City, her parents were Navajo traders who operated the Tuba City Trading Post for many years. For her, the area was beautiful and growing up there was a wonderful experience. Even though she was one of the handful of Anglos living there, she felt at home. She remembers she didn’t see hate or discontent and the people got along well. Her family was respected by the other locals. Skin color didn’t mean anything to her. Arleen learned some Navajo words and could communicate with her Diné friends and customers.

Some of her friends went to the Tuba City Boarding School, which had only two rooms back then.  Grades one through five were in one room. And grades six through eight were in the other. Beyond, 8th-grade kids had to go out of town to school. She completed 8th grade and then went to St. Joseph Catholic Boarding School in Prescott, Arizona.  

Phil Miller was born in Tuba City. Arleen knew Phil growing up and he would later be her husband. He lived in the community as well and had to leave town to finish high school too. He went to school in Wasatch, Utah. Arleen remembers hearing that when Phil was born, he had almost no hair. He was in the hospital with Native American babies who all seemed to be born with a full head of hair. She chuckled as she said it was easy for his grandparents to find him in the nursery at the hospital.

In 1972 the pair moved to Page without a job and hoped to get on at the then new Navajo Generating Station in LeChee. Soon they bought and operated a store called “Page Photos and Gifts,” and also bought a clothing store called “Pansies,” which later merged to become “Page Photos, Gifts, Fashions and Fabrics.”  She got to know a lot of people here that way. She would count out change in Navajo.

While she lived in Tuba City, she would visit Page when the Glen Canyon Dam was being built.  

“Page Camp”, as it was first known, grew in the early years until the dam was built. Page was incorporated as a city on March 1, 1975. She still has a copy of the newspaper announcing the “new city.”  When the dam was completed, Page downsized to some 150 families. As NGS was being built, the town grew to 7,000.  In 2017, Page had 7,550 residents.

Back then, Page was pretty isolated. For example, Arizona State Route 98 didn’t exist and there was no direct route to Kayenta from Page.  

With the isolation, transportation was difficult. One year, her husband gave her 10 hours of flying lessons as a Christmas present. Because the instructor would not travel to Tuba City – unless there were at least two students – Phil bought lessons for both of them. Phil wanted to learn to fly and thought his wife might like to learn as well. Arleen hadn’t considered that option at first. When she was learning, she had to overcome motion sickness. The first two lessons almost made her sick.

As she learned to pay close attention to what was going on, she found that her motion sickness almost went away as her attention became focused on flying the plane and operating the controls. So that both Phil and Arleen could learn to fly, Phil would drive to Flagstaff and his flying lesson would take him to Tuba City.

Arleen’s lesson would take her from Tuba City back to Flagstaff where she would drive their car back to Tuba City to meet her husband again.   

One day, while they were taking lessons, the plane didn’t behave correctly, and the plane had to land again. Phil asked if she had checked the ailerons on the plane. She said she had. After landing, they realized that the ailerons had become icy. Because the runway and taxiway were dirt and it had rained, the rain had coated the wings and froze on the ailerons as the plane was taking off.  

Another time, the training plane’s engine just stopped running and Phil had to glide the plane to a landing in the desert between Tuba City and Rare Metals mill. The plane was not seriously damaged, and it turned out that the linkage to the carburetor had become disconnected.

Once the plane was loaded onto a trailer and taken to the highway, Phil was able to connect the carburetor linkage and the pilot flew back to Flagstaff. That wasn’t the last of the exciting training flights. The single propeller once fell off of a plane and it landed on Interstate 40. Back then, there wasn’t much traffic and it was pretty safe to land on the freeway.

Once they both earned their pilot’s license, they were able to fly all over on their only day off each week, the only way to travel with so little free time. Running the store kept them busy six days per week and they looked forward to exploring on their day off. They owned several different planes over the years including their first plane, a Cessna 172 and later a 182.  

With their skills as pilots, they participated in flying competitions. One of the games she remembers is flying over the airport’s wind sock and dropping a rolled-up sock ball. The pilot whose sock ball was closest to the windsock would win a nice prize.

Phil and Arleen loved to fly, and flying was a way to keep in contact with their friends and family members. Arleen even went on a glider and it was a completely new experience. What she noticed the most was how silent the flight was. She had not known a more silent way to fly. Another time she went parachuting with Phil south of Phoenix. They were 12,500 feet above the ground. They fell the first 5,000 feet in 51 seconds before deploying the parachute and safely drifted to the ground.  No one got hurt and it was a treasured memory for both of them. They have also parasailed on Lake Powell and rode in a power parachute.

After flying for 26 years, one day, in 2016 her younger son surprised her by coming to Page with a flight instructor. Arleen thought she was just going for a ride in an airplane when the instructor asked her if she would like to take the controls. For the first time in 26 years, she flew the plane and successfully taxied, took off, flew for an hour and landed it.  

Much like riding a bicycle, it was as if she had never forgotten how to fly. The pilot also agreed to take two clients from Helping Hands up in the air, something they had never done before. With smiling faces, the pilot gave them their very own flight log book, signed with that day’s flight. The pilot also signed Arleen’s flight book for the time she flew.

Later on, Arleen became involved with Helping Hands Agency, which helps disabled people by volunteering her time.  Seeing the happy faces, whenever she came home from volunteering, she did so with “a happy heart.”

Once Helping Hands put on a play of “Alice in Wonderland” and Arleen made the costume for Alice. For years, Arleen sponsored horseback riding for the clients of Helping Hands. Most of the “kids,” as she calls the clients, had never been on a horse before, especially the wheelchair-users. Their faces lit up when they were placed on the back of the horse and rode around. Once a year, she still arranges for horse rides at Helping Hands.  

She and Phil kept active in flying by sponsoring hot-air balloons for the annual Page-Lake Powell Balloon Regatta and as a board member for the organization. They flew many times in a balloon and arranged for rides for clients at Helping Hands to ride in a balloon. Most hadn’t ever been in a balloon.  

In the initiation ceremony for first-time passengers, the pilot would put a small rug on the ground.  

The passenger – holding their hands behind their back – would have to pick up a glass of champagne off the ground with their mouth. As the passenger picked up the glass of champagne, the new balloon passenger would receive a water baptism after everyone recited the Balloonist’s Prayer.

One of her current hobbies is cross-stitch. Over the years, Arleen created countless cross-stitch pieces, which she usually gives away. She still stitches and her home has many beautiful examples of poems and inspirational verses framed by a detailed cross-stitch pattern and then framed under glass.   

To thank the hot-air balloon pilot, Arleen gave him a cross-stitch piece she had made with the Balloonist’s Prayer. A client named Rick at Helping Hands wanted her to help him cross-stitch an award to owners of the agency at a presentation.  He even learned to put his name on the piece as the creator.

Arleen and Phil had four children: two boys and two girls. Family reunions are usually a busy time with 12 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren. Arleen’s family lives all over the country. They visit her often and she looks forward to seeing them. Her eldest son lives nearby and helps her around the house. Arleen said, “Page has always had many wonderful people.”  She enjoys living in Page and hopes to be here a lot longer. She loves waking up to the scenery of the area and can’t think of a better place to live.  


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