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Grandmother in the Dorm--She's Leading Two Lives

January 31, 1985|URSULA VILS | Times Staff Writer

Ann Miller is pretty much the typical college girl--casual in pants and sweater, full of talk about the new semester's classes, glad to see friends after the winter break, eager to delve into the new books on her dorm room shelf.

She is typical, that is, until you notice the photos of her grandchildren.

A Total Experience

That Ann Miller should be a senior at Scripps College at the age of 68 is not very unusual in these days of emphasis on lifelong education. That she would choose to live in a campus dorm is.

"I wanted the total (college) experience," said Miller, who leaves her spacious Pasadena home for her dorm digs ("my cell in the nunnery") during the week. "Living in the dorm has given me a certain freedom from responsibility. I haven't had that very much in my life.

"I enjoy living closely with young people. I have equality with them. It's different from the way it was with my own children."

Miller's life has been fairly typical of a woman of her generation: wife and homemaker, mother (two children from her first marriage, two of her second husband's, one from their union), community work (Hadassah, the Pasadena Mental Health Auxiliary, her synagogue), a standing Friday afternoon bridge game.

But she always managed to pursue the education denied her by financial need in the Depression and early marriage and motherhood. She took extension courses at UCLA and the University of Judaism--and she was an omnivorous reader.

Right now reading is one of her problems.

"I have so much reading to do for classes," she said, "that I haven't read a newspaper in three months."

The sign on Room 127 of Browning Hall on the Scripps College campus in Claremont offers "Psychiatric care 5, by appointment only" and gives the occupant's name: Ann Miller.

Today Miller, a slender woman, is wearing pants in a muted stripe, boots, a bright scarf at the neck and a white sweat shirt daintily inscribed "Scripps College" on the left shoulder.

She opens the door to a simply furnished room--single bed, desk and table, chest of drawers, a small refrigerator, two chairs. Miller has hung several colorful scarfs to brighten the scene, along with a poster of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra--and the profusion of photos of her five children and eight grandchildren.

She offers guests the chairs, perches on the edge of the bed and speaks with enthusiasm of her spring semester classes: international relations, modern art and Modernism, immigration and ethnicity in the United States, American film studies ("See a great movie once a week, go to class and write a paper").

Miller was looking forward to a weekend seminar on democracy in America--and, of course, her Friday afternoon bridge game with friends from the Pasadena Mental Health Auxiliary.

She had some mixed emotions, however.

"I get elated the minute I come back to school," she said. Then a few minutes later, upon serious consideration: "The prospect of this semester is overwhelming."

Miller, who will be graduated in December, is an English major, "British and American literature, mainly 19th-Century British and contemporary American. It is most pleasurable. I have read all my life, and I figured college would be reading English novels. . . . I also have taken history, philosophy, the humanities."

A native of Montreal, Miller had a bilingual education in English and French from third grade through high school. To brush up her French ("I hadn't had French in five-oh years") she chose to live in Browning Hall's "French corridor," an area of 10 students and an adviser who strive to improve their conversational skills in the foreign language.

She chose Scripps because it is a small women's college, she said, with a good Continuing Education program in which she could feel comfortable. She went with the blessing of her husband of 25 years, Charles, a physicist at JPL and Caltech.

"I wanted to make the best of what I had left," she said. "Then, five months after I had started school, my husband died. It was terribly traumatic, a sudden heart attack. . . . College was a place to lose myself. It made the grief tolerable.

"Going to college got me off the backs of my children and let me go my own way."

Miller said her grade average is "a bland B"--yet she received warm congratulations and a handshake when a 20-ish classmate found out Miller got a strong B+ on her senior thesis, which she completed two semesters ahead of time.

She is uncertain about what she will do after graduation, except that she "absolutely will not" attend graduate school: "That is very hard work."

"I don't make plans; I'm rolling with the punches, adapting," she said. "Several professors have tried to interest me in doing research projects with them. As for a job, I would have to find employment irresistible. I really don't think I'd go to work.

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