HARRISONBURG, Va. — Iowa native Roman Miller said he expects to spend two years in Harrisonburg.
When offered a staffed professorship in the biology department at Eastern Mennonite University, Miller said he planned to try the job, but would move on in a few years.
“I (had) no desire to go to a little rinky-dink school,” Miller said.
Like the winding cut of a scroll saw through a piece of maple wood, Miller said those two years he planned to spend at college turned into 31 – getting married for the first time at the start in his forties and he and his wife buying property in the area. Then they adopted two girls from an orphanage in Ukraine – sisters Zoya Miller and Katarina Miller – when they were 4 and 6 years old.
Now grandfather, Miller, professor emeritus of biology at EMU, draws on his background in the disciplines of physiology and biomedicine for a new hobby he discovered after moving to Virginia. Mennonite Retirement Community in 2018.
Setting up shop at the Harrisonburg Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays, Miller brings unique wooden puzzles and toys – from beautifully detailed trucks to farm sets – naturally colored by the hues of different types of wood. Interesting to both oddity buffs and students, Miller’s anatomy puzzles are a unique offering that combines his love of woodworking with his understanding of the functions of the organs of the human body.
“Anatomy studies more the detail of a part. Physiology is concerned with interactions. To do physiology, you have to know anatomy,” Miller said.
He creates the puzzles in the comfortable, air-conditioned carpentry workshop located in the basement of one of the VMRC buildings. Close to home, he says he was drawn to the carpentry workshop as a retirement activity.
“Nobody does anatomy puzzles. (I said) I’m going to do anatomy puzzles,” Miller said.
Having lived on farms, he was familiar with rough woodworking, but at VMRC Miller said he became interested in the scroll saw, which uses a thin blade to cut intricate patterns and details in wood. like the curved edge of a puzzle piece.
“I had really never worked with wood before,” Miller said. “The first things I did weren’t very good.”
Miller said he has created 20 different types of anatomy puzzles in the few years since he started carving wood. He uses pine, cherry, maple and other types to create other simple puzzles, alphabet and number toys, wooden trucks and farm toys and some games.
Miller, who mentored many EMU students and was considered an enlightening teacher, according to school media, said he thought anatomy puzzles would be a good way to initiate young children to biology, so that they are familiar. with anatomy at school.
With some rough edges, Miller said adopting her daughters years ago was difficult. He said that when they arrived they only spoke Ukrainian. Eventually, her two daughters learned English, Miller said. They each live in the area and Miller is now a grandfather of four children, each of whom has “their share” of carved wooden toys.
Named after the farm where he and his family raise sheep and grow blackberries, Miller’s business, “Knoll Acres Woodworking,” has an online store and also has a presence at craft shows, such as the Fall Festival on Broadway, the Holiday Market at Rockingham County Fairgrounds and VMRC Craft Fairs.
“I like variety. I don’t make tons and tons of copies of the same thing,” Miller said. “Once I do something, and I do it pretty well, I want to try something different.”
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