Doreen Miller

Sisters Doreen Miller and Ethel Badger have a great deal of family history in Grande Prairie. The Lewis Hawkes Pavilion in Evergreen Park is named after Ethel and Doreen’s father. The Gordon Badger stadium is named after Ethel’s husband. With the start her dance band, “The Hawkes” in 1945, Doreen found a way into the city’s history in her own way.

The Hawkes were hired for local engagements and also played many dances for the Association. Doreen sang, Ethel played keyboards and the other band members played violin, guitar, and accordion. They enjoyed a long career, entertaining local audiences until 2002, when Doreen was taken ill. Ethel is often mistaken for her sister and asked by clients “When are we going to have a dance?”

The band became involved through a connection with Doreen’s son, Gerald Miller, who is currently a group home resident and participant in the Developmental Activity Program (DAP). Doreen tried to have at least three dances a year for the clients of the Association. She hosted barbecues at her farm in Grovedale and always included music and dancing in the plans for the day.

Ethel remembers one time, while the band was playing at the Peace School of Hope, Brian Novlesky came up on the stage and said he wanted to sing “Kumbaya.” He started to sing and then he lost the words, so Ethel started to help him out. “Just minute here,” he said, “I’m singing and you just be quiet.” He took his hat off and addressed the audience. “Sorry about this,” he said, and then continued on with the performance. Ethel said that she and Doreen could not stop laughing. They “were terrible for giggles” and had a hard time continuing with the music.

Doug Whyte also stands out in Ethel’s memory. During dances at the Golden Age Centre, he would yell out “OK, look everybody” and then would take a spin with Ethel on the dance floor. At one dance, everyone was doing the “bunny hop” and in the process, Ethel’s sweater ended up down to her knees from all the pulling and hanging on that was happening during the dance. Ethel looked over to Doreen and says she was no help at all because she just “got the giggles.” Ethel says the clients really enjoyed the music and loved to dance. The children always cheered and thanked Doreen and you could tell the staff had taught them good manners.

I fully enjoyed the joy on their faces, getting up and having such a good time. I think they really did have a good time. They got up right away, you know.

Doreen’s neighbours once brought fresh tomatoes from their garden to a barbecue at the Miller’s farm. When it came time to cook, Ethel couldn’t find the tomatoes and asked where they might have gone. She heard “Mmm, aren’t they good” and found a client around the side of the house, eating all the fresh tomatoes. Another big hit at the barbecues was the mashed potatoes and Doreen would always make sure that there was plenty for all the second and third helpings that would be in demand.

Ethel is not surprised that Doreen became so involved with the Association. She remembers that as a young girl Doreen was always looking for ways to help out in the community. One evening, Doreen and Ethel were going in to a dance at the old mason’s hall. They noticed a young boy sitting beside a dumpster and they asked why. He said he didn’t have the money to attend. So Doreen and Ethel told him to come in anyway, knowing that there was always more than enough food to go around. Doreen was a strong advocate for the rights of the children in care and would not stay silent if she saw situations in which a child was not being cared for in the proper way.

Gerald is the youngest of Doreen’s three children. Doreen noticed that, at the point where she expected him to, Gerald still wasn’t speaking. She had him tested and to this day does not understand why. Ethel says that not knowing the reason for Gerald’s handicap has always been hard for Doreen to deal with.

Ethel says that she wonders how Doreen ever smiled because she had so much to deal with and eventually got so tired. Ethel realizes how lucky she is to have healthy children. She saw first hand the huge amount of work that Doreen had to deal with every day in taking care of Gerald and tried to help her all she could.

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