Claire Blumenthal Miller dies; had bat mitzvah & wed in her 80s
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Claire Blumenthal Miller sometimes called herself “the redhead from Chicago.”
She was much more.
She had to drop out of college to support her family, but re-invented herself as a real estate agent. After losing her 46-year-old son Edward to heart trouble — and, eight months later, her husband of 55 years — she coped by remaining active and involved.
So she studied her religious lessons and had her bat mitzvah at 83.
At 84, she went to Havana on a medical mission, bringing pharmaceutical supplies and clothing.
Then, she took a second chance on love with a man she’d met at a fraternity party 70 years earlier, marrying again, at 86, in a peach chiffon suit — with matching shoes and purse — before 220 guests.
Mrs. Miller died Aug. 13 at 91.
She grew up on the North Side, where, she said, her favorite memories were of being a carefree teenager at Loyola Beach. Her father, Sidney Stone, was a businessman. Her mother, Minnie, once performed under the stage name Leslie Gardner and had a long career as a “pony,” or chorus girl, with the Shubert Organization, builder of many iconic Broadway theaters. From her mother, she learned to be strong, said Mrs. Miller’s son, Sidney Blumenthal, a Washington author and confidante to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
At one point, Flo Ziegfeld tried to hire Minnie Stone for his sumptuous spectacle, the Ziegfeld Follies. Her interest cooled when she found out summertime rehearsals were unpaid. She asked, “When we practice in the summer, how much do we make? And he said ‘Nothing.’ And she said forget it,” said Mrs. Miller’s daughter, Marcia Blumenthal Fields.
After her husband died in his 50s, Minnie Stone worked at Oak Street’s swank Halpern Shop and Charles A. Stevens on State Street.
As a result, “My mother and her sister always dressed beautifully,” said Marcia Blumenthal Fields.
Young Claire, who graduated from Sullivan High School, “was a great beauty,” said her daughter. “And she had that deep red hair.”
She went to fraternity parties at Northwestern University, where she met Bernard Miller. Seventy years later, he would become her second husband.
She attended Ohio State University, but had to drop out after the death of her father. Returning to Chicago, she worked as a secretary and dated West Sider Hymen Blumenthal, who became a business entrepreneur and importer.
The West Side, where Yiddish was once common, was “a little bit more rough and tumble. The North Siders were more Americanized,” said their daughter. “My mother always said it was a ‘mixed marriage.’ ”
Hymen Blumenthal was fearless. When the German American Bund, a group with Nazi sympathies, held rallies in Chicago in the late ’30s, he and his brother, Nate — and boxer Barney Ross — were among a contingent of young Jewish men who went to counter-protest, and perhaps, throw a few punches, according to Sidney Blumenthal.
Hy and Nate “were known on the West Side as the ‘Baer Brothers’ ” after Max Baer, a powerful Jewish boxer, he said. “They were big and tough.”
Claire and Hymen Blumenthal raised their children in West Rogers Park. When her children were older, Mrs. Miller sold real estate. She also was involved in book groups and psychology classes, and participated in civil rights rallies and anti-Vietnam war protests, wearing a necklace that said “War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.”
After the death of Hymen Blumenthal, she studied for her bat mitzvah at Am Shalom Congregation in Glencoe. At the urging of a friend, she and Bernard Miller re-connected, marrying in 2001. For their honeymoon, they visited Sweden. They also enjoyed a trip to Tokyo.
Big Band music always played in their Lincolnwood home. She belonged to a movie group and studied Shakespeare at Oakton Community College. And, she volunteered with The Saints, an organization of theater ushers.
Mrs. Miller is also survived by six grandchildren, a great-grandchild, a stepson, Anthony Miller, and two step-grandchildren. Services have been held.
Sidney Blumenthal dedicated a 2016 book to his mother, “A Self-Made Man: the Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1849.” He said “she decided in her eighties to learn Hebrew and have the Bat Mitzvah she never had. Then she married a wonderful, kind, and intelligent man, Bernard Miller…..My mother is the most life-affirming person I know.”