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Cleo Marie Miles

December 18, 1918 February 11, 2019
Cleo Marie Miles
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Obituary for Cleo Marie Miles

Cleo Marie Miles, 100, of Great Falls, Montana, passed away peacefully in her sleep at Hosanna House Assisted Living on February 11, 2019. She was born in Kiamichi, Oklahoma on December 18, 1918 to Louise Fulsom, Choctaw Indian, and William Edwards, who was African-American.

During Cleo’s childhood, her mother provided for the family by making quilts and doing laundry, while her father, worked as a Pullman on the railroad. Cleo was forced to leave school after fourth grade to work the farm, primarily to pick cotton. She often did this work on her knees which is what she attributed to her lifelong knee problems. Her sister Dora Lee also helped her to attend the cows, churn butter, collect the eggs, and gardening.

Cleo lived through many difficult historical events, like the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the Civil Rights movement, which made her the strong, loving mother and wife that she was. When she reminisced about living through the Great Depression, when the food supply had dwindled, she told how her family subsisted on plants from the wild, and jackrabbits. Even after she was older, she said that she craved her mother’s fried jackrabbit and jackrabbit sausage. The neighbors in her area all worked together, sharing what they had to keep everyone safe. Cleo remembered seeing the starving and homeless during the Great Depression, and it affected her greatly. That is why she often volunteered for charity work, including feeding the homeless in Great Falls, both at her church and at the Rescue Mission.

Cleo sometimes reminisced about the Dust Bowl, when Cleo’s mother would pile quilts on the beds and make the kids stay under the bed to protect them from the airborne dust, which could have caused a fatal lung ailment. During heavy dust storms, visibility was often so bad that the family had to use a rope to guide their way to the outhouse.

Cleo eloped at the age of 14 to escape an abusive stepfather, but he quickly brought her back home. Her mother, concerned for Cleo’s safety, then sent her to live with a relative in Denver, Colorado, where she worked as a maid, which she always enjoyed; later she worked as a riveter for a time as well.

On June 22, 1954 Cleo married Robert Miles, a Sergeant in the Air Force. When they met, Cleo and Robert’s courtship was less than a month before they were married, as the Air Force required that Robert transfer to Chitose, Japan. As Cleo was still in Denver, the distance was very hard on them and Robert wrote her endearing love letters every day they were apart. When he returned 10 months later, they moved to Illinois and soon after, to Indian Head, Maryland, where they adopted their son, Steven.

Robert sometimes considered leaving the Air Force, but Cleo preferred the stability the military provided for the family. Cleo liked to tell the story of when her husband, Robert, said that he wanted to buy some land and start a farm. Cleo laughingly responded: “Robert, I love you, but you’re going to have to do that without me, because I’m never going to garden again.” In the end, Robert spent 26 years in the Air Force.

Later, Robert was stationed in Germany, which gave the family opportunities to travel and sightsee. Cleo traveled frequently around Europe with her best friend Evelyn, touring areas of Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Austria, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Four years later, the family moved to California and, soon after, to Great Falls, MT. In Great Falls, Cleo and Robert had found a home, and they decided to retire there. When Robert passed away in 2005, Cleo and he had just celebrated their fiftieth anniversary, though Robert often joked, “Married fifty years…the happiest twenty years of my life!”

Cleo and Robert were very active in the Moose Lodge in Great Falls, and always enjoyed traveling to Moose Club events around Montana. Cleo frequently talked about how loving and accepting people were in all the Montana towns they visited. She liked to stay busy and had numerous hobbies during her long life, including bowling, ceramics, cake decorating, oil painting, and her favorite pastime - bingo. She also loved being active in her church - Union Bethel AME Church - for almost 40 years until she reached her 90s and was no longer able.

Cleo was preceded in death by her husband, Robert, her four sisters, Mary, Edith, Virginia, and Dora Lee, and her brother Leroy. Cleo is survived by her loving son, Steven Miles, and 2 granddaughters, Olivia and Laila.

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