The Ocean County Compendium of  History
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Polly Miller Obituary

Ocean County Historian Pauline S. Miller, 93, Dies in Toms River

By Steven J. Baeli

December 8, 2011

The Ocean County Compendium of History is sad to report the passing of Ocean County Historian, Pauline S. Miller.

Mrs. Miller, wife of the late Herbert Miller, died this morning near her home in Toms River.  Unofficial reports have suggested that Mrs. Miller had gone outside in the early morning hours without proper dress and may have succumbed to exposure.

Although not a professional historian, “Polly,” as most everyone knew her, earned the title of “Distinguished Ocean County Historian” after years of hard work for her efforts in promoting the history of our county.

She leaves behind an extensive body of work, including her labor of love, Ocean County: Four Centuries in the Making, which outlined the history of the county from 1614-2000, setting a template that future historians may look to when continuing the tradition that she herself continued from Ocean County Bureau of Public Relations director, Jack Lamping, and his predecessor, Fred G. Bunnell.

Polly was the first chairperson of the Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission (OCC&HC), a department that she helped to form that was brought into existence in 1968 under New Jersey State law.  She was appointed administrator of the Commission in 1983, serving the county for over thirty years in those capacities until her retirement from public service in 2002.

Mrs. Miller hailed from Illinois, moving to Toms River in 1935, two years before marrying her husband, Herbert, with whom she had two sons, Glenn, born in 1939, and Phillip in 1941.  Glenn Miller was the sole survivor of the plane crash that took the life of Ocean County Freeholder, Robert J. Miller in 1969.

Her interest in history began in the mid-1940s when she would take her sons on daytrips to historic sites in Monmouth County, and by 1959, she had begun to read from the newspaper archive books then stored in the basement of the courthouse.  From there she furthered her education by reading books on New Jersey history, and then began to research titles and deeds, and holding interviews with members of the senior population related to the county’s founding families.

Mrs. Miller’s experience in title searching led to the opening in 1957 of her own title company, which closed in 1976.

Her homeschooling paid off with the publishing of Early History of Toms River and Dover Township, in l967, followed by other works, including Three Centuries on Island Beach, in 1981, History of the Toms River Presbyterian Church, Dover Township 225th Anniversary Historic Journal, and Century of Art: 1850-1950, all published in 1992 with the latter co-written with Professor Dr. Marilyn R. Kralik of Ocean County College.  In 1993 she released Lovelandtown, and in 1994 publishing The Great Sedges, and Double Trouble: A Pine Barrens Preserve.  Her final and masterwork, Ocean County: Four Centuries in the Making was published in 2000.

In 1969, as chair of the OCC&HC, Mrs. Miller was integral to securing the land on Hadley Avenue that the Ocean County Historical Society would call its home.  Serving as president of that organization from 1967-1969, and as its Director and Director Emeritus from 1973 until her death, her work became an integral part of that society’s growth. 

In 1978, Polly was appointed Director of the New Jersey State Sites Council & Trust, serving in that role until 1982, and as its chairperson from 1983-1992.  She also served as the New Jersey State Historian of the Daughters of the American Revolution 1974-1977, was Trustee of the League of Historical Societies of New Jersey, Preservation New Jersey, the Toms River Seaport Society, and the Deserted Village of Allaire, and the chair of the Dover Township Historic Preservation Commission.

During her tenure as chair of the Commission, Mrs. Miller oversaw a county-wide survey of historical structures and places in 1979 that identified almost 2000 sites, which was later published in four volumes, and also initiated the Multi-Cultural Festival of Ocean County to “promote awareness of the arts of people of cultural differences.”

Her work expanded somewhat outside the area of history when she was installed as chair of the Dover Township Tercentary Board in 1964, the Bicentennial Celebration in 1967, and as a member of the Dover Township Downtown Study Commission in 1978.  

Mrs. Miller also had experience in primary and secondary education from her years in Illinois, served as director of the Toms River Community Adult School 1953-1961, on the Toms River Regional School Board, 1958-1962, and as a representative adjunct professor for Ocean County College teaching local history to teachers working in Ocean County.

Polly also authored a series of historic pamphlets, including Joel Haywood: The Founding Father of Ocean County, Brief Encounter at Osborn Island: The Pulaski Affair, Threat to a Negotiated Peace: The British Attack on Toms River, and The Disappearing Island: Tucker’s Beach.

In the area of film, Polly wrote and directed, Toms River Block House Fight, in 1976, a short film for which she won the Freedom Foundation Award for its portrayal of the British attack on Toms River in 1782.  She also narrated for slide programs The Hindenburg: Balloons, Blimps & Dirigibles; Indians of Ocean County: 10,000 BC-1700 AD; The New Jersey Delegates and the Constitution; Our Ocean County: Architectural Heritage and Natural Resources 1988, and Double Trouble:  A Pine Barrens Preserve.

Other awards included Ocean County Woman of the Year from the Home Extension Service, Woman of Distinction Award from the Sproptimist International of Toms River, Honorary Colonel of a Regiment of Militia of the State Troop of the State of New Jersey from Governor Brendon T. Byrne, Citizen of the Year from the Toms River Chamber of Commerce, Jerseyman of the Week from the Newark Star Ledger, Award of Recognition, from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the Faunces Tavern Award from the American Revolution Round Table for her work on the war documentary, named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Toms River Rotary Club, a Toms River High School Hall of Fame Honoree, and won the Richard J. Hughes Award Pitcher from the New Jersey Historical Commission.  Mrs. Miller was also a recipient of the Dr. Joshua Hilliard Award from the Ocean County Historical Society, which also named a room in the museum at 26 Hadley Avenue in her honor.

Her work for twenty years on the New Jersey State Historic Sites Council thirteen of which she served as chairperson, earned her the Oliphant Award from the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton for her “lifelong dedication and contribution on behalf of history and historic places [which have] greatly enhanced the professionalism of historic preservation in New Jersey," Polly Miller has also received the Fraunces Tavern Award from the American Revolution Round Table and the Richard J. Hughes Award from the New Jersey Historical Commission.

The ultimate recognition came when she was honored by the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, who officially named her Distinguished Ocean County Historian.  Mrs. Miller is the first and only person ever bestowed with that honor, and a plaque with her likeness is mounted on the wall in the old Ocean County courthouse building.

Polly Miller will be missed by her friends, her peers, her students, and in the area of Ocean County history.

A memorial service was held at the Presbyterian Church of Toms River on December 12, 2011 with a eulogy given by her good friend, Ocean County Freeholder John Bartlett.  You can hear his memorial here

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