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The Dash Between: Millie Arthrell taught living history


Millie Arthrell, wearing a prairie dress and granny glasses, taught classes at Oberlin Heritage Center's Little Red Schoolhouse like it was 1859.

The retired Oberlin Schools teacher, who followed a modern-day curriculum for 20 years, brought history to life at OHC and countless other venues.

Millie, who died Dec. 22, 2010, at age 97, presented programs on topics including Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the "Little House on the Prairie" books, Theodore Roosevelt and Oberlin history.

The Dash Between: About this feature

The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates. Award-winning writer Alana Baranick has made her living writing about the dash between. She’s focusing on Lorain and Medina counties and those who have made our area the unique and interesting place it is. Look for her stories on alternating Sundays and visit to find additional photographs.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear twice a month in The Chronicle-Telegram. To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at or (440) 731-8340.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between Jan. 6, 1913, when Millie Arthrell was born Mildred E. Haulk in Pittsfield Township, and Dec. 22, 2010, when the retired Oberlin teacher and historian died at age 97.

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"She became an expert on the Underground Railroad and Oberlin's role in resisting slavery," said Bill, the younger of her two sons.

She impersonated such historic figures as Lucy Stone, an Oberlin abolitionist and women's rights advocate, and enlightened audiences about the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858, which led to Oberlin's reputation as "The Town that Started the Civil War."

Millie used slides and props to enhance her stories. When telling students about the Oregon Trail, she showed them a 3-foot-long model of a Conestoga wagon.

For the Civil War, she baked the kinds of food that Union soldiers would have eaten, including thick crackers, known as hard tack. She also had maps to chart the course of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

In addition, she gave presentations to lifelong learners at Lorain County Community College, to students at elementary schools and to residents of retirement centers. Millie gave her last official lecture on Harriet Tubman in front of 80 to 90 people in 2009 in Tulsa, Okla., where she lived with her son, Dan, and his wife, Claudia, for the last three years.

"I was there," her son, Bill, said. "She mesmerized the crowd at age 96. I was awestruck. Her voice projected so well."

She was born Mildred E. Haulk on Jan. 6, 1913, on a farm in Pittsfield Township. Her father worked as a farm hand.

At age 5, Millie moved to Wellington and almost immediately became a regular at the Herrick Library. She immersed herself in the classics.

After graduating from Wellington High in 1931, she took a secretarial course at Oberlin School of Commerce. She completed the course in 1932 and became a teacher at the business school and the chief breadwinner for her recently divorced mother and three younger siblings.

In 1935, Millie took a job as an executive secretary at Worthington Ball Co. in Elyria, where she met George Arthrell, who worked in the shipping department.

"He asked her for typing lessons, not to go dancing or to the movies," their son said.

They were married at First Methodist Church in Oberlin on Sept. 16, 1939.

The couple lived in Elyria in the mid-1940s before purchasing a large rooming house in Oberlin, which became a women's dormitory for Oberlin College and commerce school students. Millie served as housemother, while George worked for Bendix-Westinghouse. They later sold the house to Oberlin College.

At age 40, Millie earned a teaching certificate from the Kent State University extension in Elyria and became a teacher with the Oberlin schools. She also trained teacher aides, including Jimmie Sue White.

"She was a teacher's teacher," White said. "She would take me to Oberlin College to hear lectures, to Baldwin-Wallace College, to joint vocational schools to partake of some very important lectures that pertained to reading."

Millie went on to receive a bachelor's degree and a master's in education from Kent. She served as interim principal at Pleasant School, was a Martha Holden Jennings Scholar and was named Ohio History Teacher of the Year before retiring in 1977.

In her retirement, she taught English as a second language and GED classes at Lorain County JVS. In the 1980s, she helped interview more than 100 Oberlin residents for an oral history project.

She and her husband traveled to historic sites across the United States and Europe. While in England, they visited the home of author Beatrix Potter, prompting Millie to become an authority on Potter's "Peter Rabbit" books.

After George's death in 2004, Millie remained in Oberlin and continued accepting speaking engagements.

The Oberlin Historical Society honored her with a special reception before she moved to Tulsa.

She embraced her new surroundings in Oklahoma, becoming active in the community by continuing to give presentations.

"Millie was the master of preparation," said her daughter-in-law, Claudia. "She loved to start new programs, reading all the children's books before she read the history books."

Scott Swearingen met her at the Great Books Class at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa.

"She had a walker and was kind of stooped," Swearingen said. "I didn't know what to expect. Next time we met, she was by far the most prepared person in the room. She had gone to the library to do extra research. Her ability to remember and understand and make things entertaining to listen to is really something."

In June 2009, Millie had a heart attack. Doctors gave her only a few days to live, but she seemed to will herself to prove them wrong.

"She beat the odds and lasted 18 more months," her son said. "She had a few more books she needed to read."

A memorial service will take place at 2 p.m. March 5 at First Church of Oberlin, 106 N. Main St.

Contact Alana Baranick at (440) 731-8340 or

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