Dorothy Miles has traveled the world, flown airplanes and remained active in the community

Monday, April 2, 2012
Dorothy Miles inside her Cape Girardeau home. Miles celebrated her 100th birthday March 30. (Laura Simon)

Most of us have been to a number of the 50 United States. Many have even made a few trips abroad. But few people are as well traveled as Dorothy Miles. This centenarian has visited all 50 states, as well as 185 countries and all seven continents.

"My husband Paul and I were never able to have children," says Dorothy. "If we had, we would have stayed at home and raised them and educated them like everyone else. But since that didn't happen, our lives took a different path."

Life's path wasn't always an easy one for Dorothy. She was born March 30, 1912, in Farmington, Mo., to J.B. and Alice Mae (Griffin) Laws. Dorothy was the second-oldest of five siblings. When she was only 6 years old, her mother died, creating tremendous hardship for the family.

"My father insisted on keeping all of us siblings together," says Dorothy. "Several relatives offered to take some of us to raise, but my father wouldn't hear of separating us. He wanted us all to be raised together."

J.B. Laws enlisted the help of a housekeeper and his own mother, and the siblings remained together as a family.

"We learned how to work hard and help out at a very young age," says Dorothy, who remains close to her surviving siblings.

Dorothy went on to graduate from Southeast Missouri Teachers College (now Southeast Missouri State University) in 1940. She taught math, English and science in the Desloge, Mo., area for nine years, and married Paul Miles in 1943. They were married for 62 years until his death in 2004. Paul had his commercial pilot's license and he encouraged Dorothy to learn to fly.

"Paul taught me how to fly a plane," says Dorothy, who got her private pilot's license in 1945 in Cape Girardeau. "In order to get your pilot's license, you had to take off and land at three area airports. My husband, unbeknown to me, followed behind me in another plane as I made my flight from the Cape airport to Cairo, Ill., and then on to Marion, Ill."

After Dorothy got her pilot's license, she got her government rating and taught meteorology, navigation and civil air regulations at Cape Girardeau Regional Airport for students who were learning to fly.

During this time, Dorothy's husband operated Moon Distributing Co., which sold beer, liquor and wine.

"He started the business in 1933, the year prohibition ended," says Dorothy. "He had the business for 55 years before he sold it in 1988."

Many of the Miles' travel experiences came through business trips.

"When we were young, we would rent a car and drive though Europe," says Dorothy, who has visited every country in Europe. She and Paul even went to Antarctica in 1986, and Dorothy says it's the most interesting place she has ever been.

"It is so different from what people imagine," says Dorothy. "It's very colorful, with every shade of blue imaginable. The views are absolutely breathtaking."

Dorothy and Paul flew on both Concorde airplanes, and for their 50th wedding anniversary, they flew the English Concorde to London and sailed back on the QE2. Many of the decorative pieces in Dorothy's home -- the same house she and her husband built 58 years ago -- are from their many trips abroad. Dorothy's most recent trip was a Persian Gulf cruise that she took with her niece after her husband passed away.

In addition to being an avid traveler, Dorothy has played bridge for 75 years. She continues to play with a group of friends every other week. And, for most of her life, Dorothy made all of her own clothes. She describes herself as "self-taught" and says that she always enjoyed it.

"I started sewing for myself in order to save money," says Dorothy. "I found that I could use better material and make items of higher quality if I made them myself."

Dorothy continued to drive herself everywhere she went until two years ago, when health problems made it difficult. She now feels more comfortable having others do the driving. She has been a member of Centenary United Methodist Church since 1946. Dorothy has also been a member of P.E.O., a philanthropic educational association, for more than 50 years.

"I am the oldest living member of our local P.E.O. chapter," says Dorothy, who has served in all seven offices of the organization.

Dorothy's well-kept appearance and quick-minded demeanor make it hard to believe that she is nearing the 100-year-old mark.

"I have family coming in from all over the country to celebrate my 100th birthday," says Dorothy. "I've lived a very full ife."

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