Verna Catherine Miller, who spent 53 years at the old Hutzler's department store selling dresses, died of heart disease July 31 at Gilchrist Hospice Care. The former Patterson Park area resident was 91.
Born in a Luzerne Avenue rowhouse, where she lived for more than 80 years, she attended St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parochial School and attended the old Seton High School on Charles Street. When her father died in 1934, she left school to help support her mother and four younger siblings.
She applied for a job at what was then the Hutzler Brothers department store on Howard Street and was assigned to the store's notions department. There she sold ribbons, buttons and spools of thread.
"I never saw her angry," said Eunice Branch, a former co-worker. "She had a welcoming presence and made everybody fit in. She was very well-thought-of among the employees."
For decades, Miss Miller worked selling what the store called "better dresses" - in those days, there were five separate dress departments. Working from an office on the second floor, she worked in stock control, sorted price tags and receipts, and made inventory notations, among other duties.
"There were no computers, and all the work was hand-calculated," Ms. Branch said.
In later years, she worked in a similar capacity on the fourth floor in what was called Saratoga Dresses, where more moderately priced garments were sold.
Miss Miller, who never had a driver's license, walked a block from her home and took the No. 23 bus to work most of her years, except on Thursday evenings. Those evenings, she would be met by one of her many nieces and her brother-in-law, Richard Lidinsky, who was Baltimore's assistant comptroller.
"I recall her coming through the store's Saratoga Street revolving door," said a niece, Mary Angela Lidinsky Mahoney of Baltimore. "She would be bound for dinner at our house and always brought a loaf of cheese bread and a Wellesley fudge cake from the store's bakery."
Miss Miller helped raise her 24 nieces and nephews and attended all family events.
"A rite of passage was the day she took you to Hutzler's tearoom for the first time," her niece said. "She also gave a shopping lesson. She was a very generous person and had a legion of loyal customers who would follow her recommendations and selections."
Miss Miller liked to travel to popular Baltimore destinations of the 1940s - Fort Smallwood or Bay Shore amusement park. She also boarded excursion boats to Tolchester and Betterton on the Eastern Shore and drove with family members to Wildwood, N.J., and Ocean City. She visited all 50 states.
In 1958, she joined other members of her church to fly to Europe and visit the Brussels World's Fair, among other destinations.
She also hosted an annual Christmas night open house, welcoming neighbors, the parish priests and family. Her Christmas tree was decorated with ornaments listing the names of her extended family members and their dates of birth.
For more than 25 years, she was the leader of Girl Scout Troop 137 at her parish, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, where she was a volunteer. She bowled in the church duckpin league and ran the cotton candy stand at its annual summer carnival on Lakewood Avenue. She also helped stage the annual May crowning procession in Patterson Park.
She was a founder of the Hen's Club, an East Baltimore social and charitable organization.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Elizabeth, 2638 E. Baltimore St.
Survivors include three sisters, Alma McMahon of Bel Air, Angela Lidinsky of Timonium and Edith Muth of Baltimore, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.