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Miller inducted into autoharp HoF

Newton woman finds a "happy heart" with autoharp.

Published: Monday, July 31, 2017 10:27 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, July 31, 2017 11:29 a.m. CDT
(David Dolmage/Daily News)
Steve Miller holds a picture of his mother, Dora Miller, and her autoharp.

After his mother passed away Steve Miller was at a loss. He knew what an impact her life had made on his own, and he wanted to find a way to let the world know how important she’d been.

Dora Miller was enshrined in the autoharp Hall of Fame this year, thanks to efforts of her son, who wanted to preserve the work his mother had done.

The autoharp, a musical instrument that is part of the chorded zither family, found fame in hands of country music stars like Maybelle and Janette Carter. An anniversary gift from her husband, ordered from the pages of the Sears catalog, would change Dora Miller’s life. Miller taught herself to play the autoharp, and it wasn’t long before she felt the urge to connect with other musicians.

“She just liked it so much that she started playing all the time,” Steve Miller said.

By 1989 she’d formed the Happy Hearts Autoharp club, the first autoharp club in the state of Iowa. For the rest of her life Miller was the glue that held the club together, bringing together local musicians, luring nationally known autoharp players to the state, and never failing to back up local musicians.

Jeanette Mattfeld was one of the founding members of Happy Hearts, and even though she lived in Cedar Rapids, she drove to Newton to take part in the group’s events. To Mattfeld, Dora Miller was a pioneer in every sense.

“She was the driving force behind it,” Mattfeld said. “She really had a passion for it, and most of the work that she did was behind the scenes.”

Mattfeld recalled how Miller was a one man band that kept the group together, organizing the meetings, bring in nationally known autoharp musicians to give concerts, and taking every opportunity to move the club along.

“She was legally blind, but she did so much than people who can see,” Mattfeld said. “She just had a lot of determination.”

Being legally blind didn’t slow Dora Miller down at all. Before her husband’s death, the retired Maytag employee took her to concerts, recitals, and music festivals across the country. When her husband got sick, Dora brought the autoharp into the hospital, and played it for him every day.

Dora Miller’s determination is something that her son inherited as well. After her death 2012 Steve Miller wanted to find a way to honor his mother, and make sure that she’d been recognized for the work that she’d done. After picking up an issue of Autoharp Quarterly, one of his mother’s magazines, he found an application for the Autoharp Hall of Fame.

“I just figured that she needed to be honored for all of her work,” Steve Miller said.

Before her death Steve Miller had asked his mother about the Hall of Fame, but she’d always refused to fill out the application, telling her son that she was “just a housewife from Iowa”. As he was writing a biography about her to hand out a family reunion he just felt like he couldn’t ignore the impact that she’d had on his life, and the lives of so many others any longer. He found the application, filled it out, and sent it in.

“She’d tell you that wasn’t as deserving, but I hope that she if was able to see that biography, and see what she’s accomplished, she’d realize that that she deserves this for all of her hard work,” Steve Miller said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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