Writing about people I actually knew is much more difficult than dredging up ancient history. This one will likely piss some people off and that’s okay. I’m going to joke about things that are not funny because that’s what we do. It’s sure as hell what she did!
Vee Ann Miller was born to Marvin “Red” and Betty (Beeson) Miller on August 31, 1946 at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Dodge City. She joined an older brother, Mike.
In the before times, Vee Ann was a little ray of sunshine. Because her parents lived behind the Big House, she was able to spend loads of time with her Grampa and Gongie. She adored them both and had tons of space and animals to occupy her time.
In 1950, the Beeson Museum moved to the new spot on South Second Avenue and the Miller family moved into the Big House. Betty had always been involved in all of the things and the same was expected of her children. Vee Ann looked super cute in her dance outfit but she hated this stuff. It was not her style AT ALL. She didn’t like piano lessons either!
The photo below is classic Vee Ann. She was ornery and more than a little bit wild.
If newspaper articles were to be believed, all was well in a happy home. Unfortunately, all was *not* well and nine-year-old Vee Ann saw her mother die by suicide in July of 1956. The portion of the note addressed to Vee Ann said, “Love you dear – Bring clothes from line before sun shines on them.”
I swear to God, how does a nine-year-old recover from that? I remember asking my grandmother if Betty left a note and her response was, “Yes, if you can call it that.” Seriously! It was a to-do list scribbled on small pieces of note paper. So to be crystal clear, any comments I make about Vee Ann being a messed-up individual are made with that in mind. Because of course she was!
From the time Betty died, it seemed like Red (and later Uncle Clare) did everything they could to keep Vee Ann from losing control. Red sent her to school at Sacred Heart hoping the structure would help. It did not. She was much smarter than her grades reflected. She really didn’t care about school at all and was noted to be “poor at following directions” on multiple report cards.
Throughout her rebellion, Vee Ann remained dedicated to her older brother. His death in 1962 was a terrible blow to Vee Ann and Red. This photo was in Mike’s belongings.
Vee Ann hated Mike’s girlfriend with the heat of a thousand suns. I don’t know if her reasons were valid or if she just felt her brother was being taken away from her, but she hated this chick for decades after Mike died.
Once she got to high school, Vee Ann was involved in Kayettes and Future Homemakers of America. She was still phoning it in, though, receiving a D- in Home and Family her senior year. She somehow managed to graduate from Dodge City Senior High in May of 1964 while everything in her life was chaos.
Vee Ann rolled her Bug on June 30, 1966 near Haggard and made up some lame excuse in a letter to the Sheriff’s Department. I would have done the same. The car was toast. That’s the most tame example of her recklessness. The photo below was taken at Clark County Lake and I know who took it but I’m not mentioning his name because I’m not sure if he was one of the married men she pursued.
Vee Ann watched her father buy cars for his women and she never did learn how to form relationships with healthy boundaries. Cars were always a problem. This photo from 1967 really says everything. She tried very hard to stuff it all in a box and distract herself with fun. Unfortunately, the fun was incredibly self-destructive.
She married Ron Compton the first time in either 1969 or early 1970. It seems like the Mustang Red bought for them was a ’69 so that’s my best guess. That didn’t last long and she then married Ted Stramel, Jr. on January 17, 1975. She filed for divorce about a month later.
After Red died in August of 1975, Uncle Clare did his best to keep Vee Ann somewhat stable. Red’s Will stipulated that his assets be held in a Trust controlled solely by Clare until Vee Ann was either “capable of managing and using the trust property wisely, or in any event when she shall become 40 years of age.” In hindsight, that wasn’t long enough.
Clare had just provided Vee Ann with the Trust accounting for 1977 and advised her she would need to cut back on her spending per their agreement. A couple weeks later, she asked for $4,000 to bail her out of another fine mess.
He closed the letter with, “Since you can’t be safe…Be Careful.”
At some point, Vee Ann bought a bar. Vee Ann had a drinking problem. This was not a good combination. She also had her stomach stapled by a doctor who wasn’t very good at his job. She suffered terrible complications and was lucky to survive; some of his other patients were not so fortunate.
Vee Ann was hospitalized a lot during the 1980s. She remarried Ron Compton on October 26, 1981 and they frequently moved because he worked for the railroad. She wasn’t around Dodge much so the family didn’t really know how bad things had gotten. Vee Ann was heavily medicated and overdosed on a tricyclic antidepressant.
Because the letter to Ron was undated, I’m not sure which hospitalization she was referring to but she had written this poem about her dad prior to her discharge:
KNOCK IN THE NIGHT by Vee Ann No sign on your door Thursday morning said “I’m OK,” I’m all right Instead came the knock of death That stole you away in the night You’ve joined our Mother Leaving me alone To heed the lessons you taught Lessons of life to sustain me On my own journeys home Make your reasons for living, you said To be faithful to those you love Be strong in the face of adversity And follow only God above Do your best in all you attempt No matter how small it is For there you’ll find life’s rewards True love and happiness Most important of all, remember To serve others For though stranger they may be The breadth of your deeds for them Reflects how much you’ve loved me
This note was included on the back: “I’ve helped many & not one god damn one will return the favor.”
And Vee Ann did help people! She was incredibly giving and often found herself surrounded by takers. She and Ron divorced again in February of 1985. Per the terms of the Trust, Vee Ann received the final distribution of the significant cash balance in October of 1986 and that’s when the wheels came off for good.
Vee Ann never took care of herself and drank entirely too much. She was worried about her health for some time. In 1995, she included “I think life is mighty short for me” in a note to a friend. And the idea of what constitutes “help” is entirely subjective. Although Vee Ann clearly felt very much alone, a worried friend tried to help in 1996 and it didn’t go well. She had lost quite a bit of weight and was extremely depressed. The friend was rightly concerned she was suicidal but his letter to law enforcement was borderline hysterical. This apparently resulted in a mental health hold and she was *very* angry:
“All damn therapists said it’s OK to show anger & cry. Now I’ve been punished. I thought what was said here was confidential! 17 Years of Trust Blew To Hell. Always smile, never show anger @ a therapist.”
Vee Ann wouldn’t talk to anyone and went downhill very quickly. The combination of lingering complications from her stomach surgery, heart problems, and self-medication proved to be too much in May of 1998 when she died at the age of 51.
This is how I remember Vee Ann…standing in the kitchen joking about whatever with her trademark snark.
I pestered Vee Ann relentlessly when I was a kid. I’d just show up at the house and hang around for hours and hours. She seemed to enjoy the company and was very patient. When I was at daycare, I’d sneak into the phone room and call her to talk about nothing. I always knew to be careful with her, though. There was a layer of profound sadness floating just below the jokes. So much ancient history caught up with her at the end.
Vee Ann was one of my best friends while we worked at Pay Day and afterwards. She never drank much or dated much during those years, but struggled with her prescription medications and mental health issues. She was funny as hell, though, and a lot of fun! I miss her dearly!