Bryant Paul Miller, known locally as Paul, and his 17-year-old son, Jackson, have been working hard to recover any salvageable remains from the Thanksgiving Day house fire.

Bryant Paul Miller, known locally as Paul, and his 17-year-old son, Jackson, have been working hard to recover any salvageable remains from the Thanksgiving Day house fire.

Photo by Donna Agusti


100 Faithful Friends support family who lost home due to fire

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published March 6, 2018

ROCHESTER HILLS — A local family was left in the cold after a Thanksgiving fire destroyed their home of over 40 years.

Although the family — Bryant Paul Miller; his 98-year-old mother, Dorothy; and his 17-year-old son, Jackson — escaped without harm, they lost virtually all of their possessions.

Paul Miller said the fire was obviously devastating for his family.

“I always thought the house was somewhat bulletproof or fireproof because it had brick walls and wet plaster, which doesn’t burn very well. So I had always felt like it was a really safe house,” he said.


A historic gem
As a child, Paul Miller lived across the street from the historic farmhouse at 1021 Harding Road, and he has fond memories of it from even before he lived there.

“Every time it rained there would be a rainbow, and it would look like it either ended or started right at the house, so we always said that this house was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” he said.

The house, a designated historic structure in Rochester Hills, is known as the Henry W. Ostrom Farmhouse on the Oakland Regional Historic Sites website. The farmhouse was built in about 1870 by Henry Wellington Ostrom for his Eureka Fruit Farm — which had 24 acres devoted to various bush berry crops, according to the 1907 Rochester directory.

“The guy was known for hiring as many as 80 workers during the picking season, and then he would haul his produce to Detroit instead of selling it to a middleman at a train station in Rochester … and it would sometimes take as long as three or four days,” Paul Miller said. “He was really interested in improving the road to Detroit, so (he) … and some of the other guys here were instrumental in getting Rochester Road developed to have better road delivery transportation to Detroit.”

Paul Miller’s mom, Dorothy, had always loved the farmhouse, which she purchased in 1973 with some inheritance money. She and her husband moved in a few years later, after their kids had all moved out. When her husband passed away, Dorothy lived in the home alone until 1995, when Paul Miller moved back in to assist his aging mother following an injury.

After deciding to remain in the home and care for his elderly mother full time, Paul Miller made an agreement to purchase the house, which he continued to live in and where he later started his own family.


A Thanksgiving tragedy
Despite the house’s age, Paul Miller always thought it was essentially fireproof, something he tragically learned was not the case the afternoon of Thanksgiving 2017.

“I took the dog out and hooked the dog out on the outside run and went and threw the sheep some hay. … I smelled wood smoke as I was walking down the driveway and I thought, ‘Oh, somebody has a fire in the fireplace.’ Walking back (inside), I saw flames shooting out of one of the front side windows on the driveway, and I heard my mom calling me, so I ran back and she said, ‘Paul, something’s wrong.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, Mom, the house is on fire. We’ve got to get you out of here.’”

After guiding his mother to safety, Paul Miller attempted to run back into the house to get a fire extinguisher, but he said that by that time, the house was already filled with smoke. His son, Jackson, wasn’t home the day of the fire.

“The fire was already going like crazy, and just in the few minutes it was going on I could see it spreading like crazy,” Paul Miller said.

The Rochester Hills Fire Department was called in to attack the fire, but despite their best efforts, firefighters weren’t able to extinguish the flames until later that night due to the construction of the old house and the antique artifacts and heirlooms the family had stored in the attic.

“We had photographs and letters and family bibles and things, and we had all of it stored in the upstairs of the house. That, too, made it really difficult to fight the fire. … Once it got up in the attic, it was a done deal,” Paul Miller said. “I think the fire started at around 2:30 p.m. and we called the Fire Department, and they were still there at 8 p.m. There was not only the fire truck from Rochester Hills, there were units from Washington Township, Troy, Oakland Township and the city of Rochester, and maybe as many as 40 firefighters. Needless to say, it was quite the three-ring circus.”

The flames — which sparked after a boiler exploded in the basement — damaged the majority of the family’s possessions and left the family homeless at the start of the holiday season.

“The house burned for four to five hours. It didn’t burn to the ground. The brick walls are still standing. All the windows have been broken, and there’s holes in the middle of the roof, and we don’t have insurance, so (I) don’t know what’s going to happen to the house. I want to rebuild it, and I believe that it is deserving of being rebuilt. The history and the role it’s played in the community just makes it kind of a special place,” Paul Miller said. “However, facing reality, I realize that might not happen.”

There was no homeowner’s insurance on the home or its contents because, Paul Miller said, he could not find an insurance agency that would cover the aging home, which had various issues, including an ongoing infestation of red squirrels.


Lending a hand
In an effort to help the family get back on their feet and at least secure them a home for the holidays, Paul Miller’s ex-wife, Kimberly Widiker, set up a GoFundMe page, which provided the family with enough money to find a temporary rental home and to purchase some food and clothing.

Family friend Lisa Russell also lent a helping hand by appealing to the group 100 Faithful Friends, persuading them to bestow their quarterly $10,000 charitable donation to the Millers at their December meeting.

Launched in June 2015 by Lana Doneth and Steve and Nancy Benedettini, the Rochester Hills-based group has at least 100 members who each donate $100 at the group’s quarterly meetings to a charity or other worthy cause.

Nancy Benedettini said the group is modeled after 100 Women Who Care of Greater Rochester, which was launched in April 2013 by Barbara Donohoe, Linda Chayka and Amy Whipple.

During each meeting of 100 Faithful Friends, members have the opportunity to put their name in a hat for the opportunity to pitch a charity or cause to receive the donation. The names of three members are drawn from the hat, and each gives a five-minute presentation about their chosen recipient. Then the group’s members vote on who gets the money.

Nancy Benedettini said the December vote was an easy one for the group’s members.

“Usually, the winner is someone who that $10,000 will provide the most help to,” said Benedettini.

Paul Miller said there are no words that could express his gratitude fully and completely for the outpouring of support from 100 Faithful Friends and others in the community.

“All I can say is ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’ And I can also say that I’m humbled and I’m grateful to live among these people. It’s not just their support. I’m grateful to be alive and living in the same community with them and humbled at the quality of people they are,” he said. “There’s a difference between being cold and hungry and not having clothes and food, and having somebody clothe and feed you. … That’s what this group is doing. In a very quiet, unassuming way, they are marching forward with determination and changing the world.”

The next meeting of 100 Faithful Friends will be held 7:30-8:30 p.m. March 15 in Room 212 of Kensington Church, 1825 E. Square Lake Road in Troy. Following the meeting, Nancy Benedettini said, the group will have donated over $100,000 to date.

For more information on 100 Faithful Friends or to become a member, visit www.100faithfulfriends.org or email nancybenedettini@gmail.com.

To donate to the Miller family’s GoFundMe page, visit www.gofundme.com/millerfamilyfire.