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'I wouldn't have had it any other way'
Williamstown brothers choose to remain a family after deaths
of both their parents and their grandparents

By Shirley Brosius, CONTRIBUTING WRITER



Michael Leiter of Tower City combined images of Warren II and Nadine Miller with a photo of their sons, Brendan and Warren Miller III, at Williams Valley basketball’s Parents Night earlier this year.

Family traditions help two Williamstown brothers cope with family transitions following the deaths of parents and grandparents.

Four years ago Warren Miller III, who had just graduated from West Virginia University; and Brendan Miller, then an eighth grader, found themselves living on their own.

“I was worried about what was going to happen, but I quickly realized I wouldn’t have to worry because I had Warren here for me – and I knew he wasn’t going to lead me astray,” Brendan said, glancing at his brother and chuckling.

Their mother, Nadine, had died in 2009 after a 10-year battle with breast cancer. Their father, Warren II, was diagnosed with lung cancer in January, 2010, and died six months later. Warren III cared for their father through his illness.

At first, grandparents supported the boys with meals and encouragement. A close-knit family, the Millers had always spent Christmases with grandparents and often ate dinners with them throughout the year.

Then maternal grandmother Phyllis Buggy of Tower City died in December, 2010, followed by her husband Jim, in May, 2013. Paternal Paternal grandmother Emily Miller of Wiconisco died in November, 2010. (Her husband had passed away in 1999.)

Following the loss and support of both their parents and grandparents, Warren did not hesitate to take on full responsibility of caring for Brendan.

“I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Warren said. “I wouldn’t have had him go anywhere else when he lived here all his life. I knew we could do it together.”

Cooking, cheering and nudging. Building on the solid family foundation laid by their parents, Warren easily transitioned from the role of brother to taking charge.

“I never had to discipline him,” Warren noted.

Nudge him, sometimes, to empty the dishwasher or take out the trash, but otherwise the brothers worked out a daily routine.

Warren had learned to cook in college, and Brendan learned by watching cooking channels on cable television.

“I see the recipes I’d like to make, then find them on the Internet,” Brendan said. “For a couple months I was making a meal every weekend.”

The first Christmas without parents and grandparents was hard.

“We tried to keep everything the same,” Brendan said. “At Christmas (our mother) would always make cinnamon buns.”

“We went to the canned version, but we still made them,” Warren added.

A 2014 graduate of Williams Valley Junior-Senior High School, sports – baseball, basketball and a year of football – played a big role in helping Brendan cope. He also played on the Upper Dauphin Legion baseball team. Warren cheered him on – most of the time.

They laugh, recalling how Warren was out of town on business for all three home runs Brendan scored.

“It was funny,” Brendan said. “It was exciting to call him and tell him; then he would get disappointed.’’

“I would make it to all the games (that I could),” Warren said. “That was important because our parents were always very supportive of all our activities. They didn’t miss a thing. So that was important for me, and I enjoy watching sports, so it wasn’t a chore.”

Keeping traditions going. The brothers share many interests. They enjoy the outdoors, especially at a camp by the Juniata River.

“We hunt and fish together every season,” Warren said. “We were just out yesterday, fishing.”

They also enjoy hunting the same areas their father’s family hunted when he was a child. One of Brendan’s favorite memories is the first time he went rifle hunting with his dad at age 12.

“I got a doe, and he did too on the same day,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”

Since then he’s shot one buck with a bow and another with a rifle, that one while hunting with Warren.

“It was snowing,” Warren said. “We sat in the snow, and it was wet.”

They split up to walk back to the truck and Brendan got lucky.

“I have a lot of memories hunting with my cousins at the (Fort Indiantown) Gap,” Brendan said. “We would hunt every day after school until dark.”

“I think tradition is very important, not only in hunting but in everything we do,” Warren said. “I like to keep the same traditions going.”

In that spirit, the family vacationed as usual at the Outer Banks the year after their mother died, and the brothers continue to make the annual trip.

“Even though we were put in a difficult situation ... it was still important for us to have fun,” Warren said.

“It was terrible. It was sad. You just have to work through it,’’ he said about the family’s misfortunes. ‘‘It’s always going to be sad; it’s always going to be there. But out there, somebody always has it worse.”

The brothers laugh at the same TV comedies.

“We pretty much like the same foods,” Brendan said. “We have the same thoughts.”

By that he meant – they both cheer for Notre Dame.

But there are differences.

Warren credits Brendan with being calmer under pressure. He’s the quieter one, like their mother. Warren’s more talkative, like their dad.

A second ‘‘Eagle.’’ According to Warren, teaching Brendan to drive provided some challenges. But Warren felt relief when he no longer had to coordinate his work schedule as a mechanical designer to take Brendan to school activities at Williams Valley – which in addition to sports, included National Honor Society and Stand Tall, a drug and alcohol awareness program. Brendan also served as vice president of his class.

Last September, Brendan followed in Warren’s footsteps by earning the rank of Eagle Scout.

According to Scoutmaster Michael Leiter of Tower City Troop 635, the boys’ Eagle Scout projects involved upgrading Tower City’s American Legion Teener field. Warren refurbished the bleachers, and Brendan built steps.

“Over my lifetime, people have walked up with a dirt path (to the field),” Leiter said. “(Brendan) put up a set of steps to accommodate the safety of people. And he put rails on those sides.”

Leiter, who contacted the newspaper about doing a story on the Miller brothers, related how he attended Brendan’s senior sports events to take photos. During parents’ night of basketball season, Brendan slapped the backboard with his hand while trying to block a shot and broke two bones, an injury that sidelined him until the last few baseball games.

During one of those games, he was brought in as a relief pitcher and struggled on the mound  at first with a tying run on second. Ultimately, Williams Valley won the game and Brendan was credited with the save.

“It was at that time I realized how alone he truly was ... ,” Leiter said. “I thought to myself: There are no parents rooting for him, ‘Come on, son, you can do it,’ no one there to glance over at for support and give a thumbs up and say ‘You are doing great, son ...”

After the game, Leiter observed players being congratulated by parents and grandparents; but since Warren had not been able to attend that game, Brendan stood alone.

“He is a young man who just saved a great game to help his team make the playoffs, and today, like many days of his life over the past four years, he was alone,” Leiter said.

“As we hear so many stories today about kids getting in trouble because both parents weren’t there to raise them, here is a boy being raised by his brother  – at the time in his early twenties – but they made no excuses and he never got into trouble. That is why I felt it was a great story.”

 Leiter credits both brothers with swimming against the tide of society rather than take an easier route.

“They stayed the path the parents set out for them,” Leiter said. 

Hillary Brennan of Williamstown knew the Millers through community activities and attended Brendan’s Eagle Scout ceremony. She chokes up as she talks of how she invited the brothers to celebrate New Year’s Day with her family following their father’s death.

“I couldn’t bear the thought of them being alone,” she said. “So all these years later, they (still) come to the house once a week and we have a meal together. They’re definitely part of our family.”

Brennan admires Warren’s resolve to care for his younger brother.

“They have dealt with more in their lifetime in this short period of time than most people deal with in their lifetime,” she said. “Warren really stepped up. He didn’t have to ... He has done an amazing job. Brendan ... respects his curfew, he respects his money allowance. He respects us. My husband and Brendan will sit and watch baseball together.”

A time of transition. Paying bills posed another challenge for Warren, but he credits a financial advisor with keeping the family finances on track and tracking down college financial aid.

“That was important, to have somebody give you an idea of what to do and how to do it,” he said. “It’s definitely important to find a professional like that to help you make the right decisions.”

Warren admires Brendan’s determination, especially in sports. In addition  to his Williams Valley activities, he played baseball on a travel team.

“For a 15-year-old kid to want to get up and travel a couple hours to these games to play – that’s determination,” Warren said.

Brendan said he enjoys learning about mental games that deal with concepts such as visualization and relaxation, and then applying those concepts to sports and other areas of life.

He expects the techniques to benefit him as he enters college to major in science and prepare for a career possibly in prosthetics and orthotics.

“My all-time goal from when I was little was to be a major league baseball player,” he said. “I’d always be out playing in the yard. But as I grew older I knew I needed a backup if that would not work out.”

For now, the traditions continue – cooking outdoors in summertime and swimming in the family’s pool, among others.

But a transition is also on the horizon as Brendan leaves to attend Penn State Harrisburg.

“Yes, it’s going to be a bit different because we’ve seen each other every single day for the past four years,” Warren said. “It’s going to be different not having him around, not going to as many sporting events.”

But Brendan plans to play baseball in college, a sports tradition that his Grandfather Buggy began and their father continued with the boys in the family’s backyard.