Friends and family douse in support of Dolly Miller

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Ice and water on the head was a way to show support to victims of ALS, and express the hope that research will bring a cure.

Over 40 people gathered in the front yard of Dolly and Steve Miller on Sunday, Sept. 14, to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The 1974 graduates of Greencastle-Antrim High School moved to Chambersburg to be near their daughters after Dolly was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis last year.

The crowd came from Greencastle Otterbein United Brethren Church and King Street Church in Chambersburg, both places of worship the Millers have attended.

The event was intended to be a surprise for Dolly, even though the yard was filling up with cars and people chattering.

“Oh, my mom knows something is going on,” said Denise Sites. “She’s smart.”

The Millers were inside, visiting with friends from their Army days in Germany. When everyone was ready, the two were beckoned outside.

Steve, on a whim, joined the bold few who chose to accept the icy challenge. Many people had already made donations to the ALS Association, and joined in the activity in the spirit of  visible support.

Dolly said they did pull off the surprise.

“Yes. I had no clue,” she said with a grin.

The bad news

Dolly Barnhart and Steve Miller dated in high school, then went their separate ways for college.

“I realized I left a sweet girl behind,” he said.

They have been married for 36 years.

Dolly was an office assistant, working for some time at Otterbein. They raised two girls, Deanne Miller, and Denise Sites, who with husband Justin, gave them grandsons Hudson, 5, and Harper, 2.

In March 2013, she experienced weakness in her right leg, which spread throughout her right extremities. They sought an explanation, and by October Parkway Neuroscience and Spine Institute had a good idea what was going on. They sent Dolly to Johns Hopkins Hospital, which gave the definitive confirmation of ALS, the neurodegenerative disease that most notably affected Lou Gehrig.

Just recently the Millers switched to Hershey ALS Clinic and Research Center for coordination of in-home and medical care.

“The Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the ALS Association is very integrated into Hershey,” said Steve, “and they are a wonderful organization. They have already called us three times.”

Dolly’s mother-in-law was part of the group touched by her diagnosis, and anxious about the future.

“Dolly’s a fabulous cook, but she can’t hold utensils any more,” said Donna Miller.

The extended family was helping as they could, while watching Steve provide the primary care.

Thus far, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which took off in July, has raised over $113 million. The organization has pledged to keep research and care services for patients and their families the top priorities, but will use the donations in a way that has the biggest impact on the disease.