He was a longtime employee at Fallingwater®, the house over a waterfall designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that is considered America’s “most famous modern house.”
On April 16, 1933, when he was less than a week from his 23rd birthday, Ralph married 19-year-old Mary "Leola" Skinner (1912-2002), the daughter of George and Bess (Tissue) Skinner.
Leola had contracted polio at the age of four, in 1916, and a guard was placed at her parents' home in the mountains of Bear Run to keep anyone from entering for exiting, with the family quarantined for 30 days. She was sent away for treatment in Pittsburgh hospitals -- and remained away from her family for some time -- before returning home. Thereafter, while she could walk for the rest of her life, it was not without difficulty.
Ralph and Leola produced four children – Ralph David "R.D." Miner, Mary "Marlene" Hiltabidel, Donna Marie Miner and Francis "Kerwin" Miner.
Ralph and his elder brother Frank began working for the family of Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. in the 1930s, later becoming full time. This work primarily involved maintenance projects at the Kaufmanns' weekend retreat, Fallingwater, located at Bear Run, Fayette County.
Leola was active in their Indian Creek Baptist Church. Said the Connellsville Daily Courier, "she was a member of the American Baptist Women's Ministry, served as a former pianist and was a past Sunday School teacher and Cradle Roll Superintendent. She had a passion for the missions and missionary works of the church."
On Aug. 29 1955, a meeting took place at Fallingwater that had a far-reaching impact. New owner Edgar Jr., who had inherited the house just four months earlier, was living full-time in New York City, where he was art editor for the Encyclopedia Britannica. He was primarily using Fallingwater as a weekend and vacation retreat, and needed to make sure his beloved house would be properly managed in his absence.
Now the sole owner of Fallingwater, Edgar Jr. summoned three of his key employees to a meeting to agree on responsibilities for ongoing care, maintenance and preservation. The team included Ralph as well as George B. Green and Jesse Hall. Edgar Jr.’s secretary, Ethel Clinton Appel, also attended.
At the meeting, Ralph was named Manager of Maintenance. He was responsible for windows and screens, the old pool, greenhouse maintenance, the Kaufmann crypt, and other buildings and interior roads on the property.
Mrs. Appel agreed to travel from her Pittsburgh office to Fallingwater every two weeks, talk to the key managers about projects and priorities, and send detailed reports to her boss in New York. Much this report is drawn from Mrs. Appel’s firsthand reports from 1955 to 1959, found today in the Edgar J. Kaufmann Jr. papers at Fallingwater.
In 1956, he and Leola moved into a renovated house on the Fallingwater property. They remained there until his retirement in 1973.
Ralph’s work can be summarized in several key themes -- a desire to be of service, friendship with house owner Edgar Kaufmann jr. and care of precious artwork.
~ Desire to Be of Service ~
Leola was interviewed in 1997 for a Fallingwater oral history project, and her comments were on display at the 2004 “Fallingwater Home Coming” exhibit. She said her husband “really tied himself down” to the house “because he felt responsible.” He was not comfortable taking vacations or attending family outings or church activities for fear that he might be needed for an emergency project.
One of the Appel reports (Oct. 11, 1955) gives insight: “Ralph was busy working on the pool for this week-end and plans to look after the driveways, paint around the new steps, and have everything in apple-pie order for your guests… We do want everything just so …. Your happiness is uppermost.”
~ Friendship with House Owner Edgar Kaufmann Jr. ~
Ralph relished his personal friendship with his boss, Edgar Jr. They are seen here on the terrace of the house, with the Bear Run stream in the background. Their warmth for each other is clear in many comments found in the Appel reports:
~ Care of Precious Artwork ~
The Kaufmanns were collectors of rare, priceless artwork that they displayed throughout their Fallingwater home. Ralph had responsibility for helping to care for these one-of-a-kind masterpieces.
Seen here,Ralph rests on the edge of the guest house pool, with the Statue of Iris visible in the upper left hand corner.
In December 1955, he helped build special crates for “standing figures by Henry Moore” that were shipped to “Miss Chaflin at Vassar.”
In November 1957, ornate bronze doors by Italian artist Alberto Giacommetti were delivered to be hung at the crypt. Ralph was in charge of the work. The following month, Mrs. Appel reported: “I was very pleased with the crypt doors. The men will have all that work completed this week.”
Another of the Kaufmann artworks, “Mother and Babe” by Jacques Lipchitz, was on display in August 1956 when a freak storm of high winds and water caused great damage to the house. The statue was swept away by the swollen, raging Bear Run waters. In her report, Mrs. Appel reported: “No trace of the statue (mother and babe) has been found, nor the man on the horse (other than one of the horses legs broken off). Ralph intends making a thorough search tomorrow and will ‘phone me if he finds the former statue.” (Aug. 20, 1956).
~ Cleanup After Damaging Flood of 1956 ~
In June 1956, Ralph oversaw the erection of scaffolding around Fallingwater to begin a massive painting effort. When the flash flood struck in August, the scaffolding was caught in the wind and “shook the whole house,” according to Donald Hoffmann’s 1978 book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater: The House and Its History.
Ralph and his men faced a huge task of cleanup and repair. Mrs. Appel reported: “[Ralph] was planning to finish Jesse Hall’s house this week … but with the terrible flood damage, I am sure he has found it necessary to cast aside his plans and help cleaning up…. It was truly heart-breaking to helplessly stand by and see what was happening. I can’t describe what happened at our place.”
~ Demolition of “The Hangover” ~
"The Hangover" was a beloved, rustic cabin built by the Kaufmanns in 1921. They used it as their residence when visiting Bear Run on weekends and vacations in the years before Fallingwater was built. By the 1950s, it had fallen into disrepair. In 1957, at Ralph’s urging, Edgar Jr. consented to its removal.
The Appel report of March 26, 1957 states that Ralph’s men “were working on demolition of the Hangover … another 2 days and it will be all down. Everything has been carefully stored in the barn and Ralph has so recorded it in his book.”
Click here to see even more images of the Bear Run site of Fallingwater in the years before it was built.
~ Ralph as Tour Leader ~
By 1956, public demand to see the house was high. Toker’s book states that Ralph was given the responsibility for leading house tours. He conducted “45 minute tours, but banned photography when it dragged out the visits to three times that length.” Ralph collected small fees and prepared reports for his boss listing tourists’ names.
When some visitors abused their privileges, Edgar Jr. made a new rule that there was to be “no one inside the house on Thursdays or Friday, … and no little peeks or squints inside.” During 1957, more than 300 visitors went through the dwelling. In June-Sept. 1958, Edgar Jr. decreed that the house was to be entirely “closed to visitors.”
~ Ongoing Maintenance Services at the House ~
Over the years, Ralph and his crews were involved with many interior and exterior repairs and renovations to Fallingwater itself. Without going into great detail, some of these efforts included painting, heating, lighting, waterproofing, utilities, removing brush and roof repair.
In one notable example, he and Earl Friend repaired a small dam and frozen water line in the dead of winter. They waded into the stream “through the ice to their waist” and slipped and fell several times before finding and fixing the problem.
~ A Generous Gift to the Community ~
After reviewing Ralph’s proposed Fallingwater maintenance budget for 1959, owner Edgar Kaufmann Jr. felt the amount was too high. He asked Ralph to trim back the cost of supplies “without too much affecting the excellent results that you have been able to achieve, and that are the source of much pleasure and favorable comment.”
Edgar proposed that any funds saved would be donated “to any church or school you name … and of course give it in your name, or have you transmit the check.”
That year, according to family notes, “Each church in Mill Run received $750.” The arrangement continued until at least 1961.
~ The Remaining Years ~
Ralph and Leola suffered through the kidney disease and eventual passing of their daughter Marlene at age 30. She died in Pittsburgh on Oct. 1, 1966, following surgery.
In 1959, some of Leola's recipes were included in a Friend family cookbook that was reprinted in 2009 by Patty Show. As well, the recipes of distant cousin Ivanore (Darr) Minerd, wife of Dr. Harold "Daniel" Minerd, are contained in the slim volume. The reprinted booklet is entitled The Friend Treasures, featuring portraits of Abraham and Elizabeth (Sipe) Friend.
Ralph passed away on March 4, 1983, in Meyersdale Hospital in Somerset County, PA. He was laid to rest at the Indian Creek Baptist Church Cemetery in Mill Run.
Leola outlived her husband by nearly two decades. In the late 1980s, she entertained the founder of this website as a visitor in her home. During those conversations, she provided extensive knowledge and valuable context about the extensive family connections in Mill Run.
She died on Aug. 21, 2002, and is buried beside her husband. In an obituary in the Daily Courier, the family asked that any memorial donations please be made to the Mission Committee of the church.
~ Son Ralph David "R.D." Miner ~
Son Ralph David "R.D." Miner Sr. (1933-2010) was born on Nov. 2, 1933 in Connellsville, Fayette County.
On June 19, 1954, he married Wilma "Jean" Cullen (1937-2006), a native of Monongahela, PA. The wedding was held at the First Christian Church of Monongahela.
Five children were born to this union -- Deborah Jean Hoppe, Ralph David Miner Jr., Patricia Marie Woodring, Roberta Gayle Miner and Mary Marlene Miner.
Ralph was employed as a sheet metal foreman. The family dwelled in Monongahela in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They moved to Bowie, Prince Georges County, MD in 1965 and remained there for decades.
Sadly, their twin daughters died young, Roberta in 1983 at the age of 13 and Marlene in 1986 at age 15. Both rest for all time in the Indian Creek Baptist Church, with the words "God's special Angel" inscribed on their grave markers.
Jean and her sister "founded C&M Answering Service in 1970 and successfully ran the business for 30 years until they retired in 2000," said the Bowie Blade. She also "became an advocate for the disabled and worked endlessly with United Cerebral Palsy. She served on its board of directors, did fund raising and testified to the state legislature in support of services to the physically and mentally challenged citizens of Maryland." She later served as president of the Bowie Civitan Club, which raised funds for disabled individuals, and was named "Lieutenant Governor of the Year" for the Chesapeake District in 1994.
R.D. and Jean celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2004.
Jean passed away on Feb. 5, 2006.
As a widower, R.D. outlived her by four and a half years, and endured the death of their son Ralph David Jr. on Feb. 14, 2008, at the age of 50.
R.D. died in Bowie, at the age of 77, on Sept. 14, 2010.
Daughter Deborah Jean Miner (1955- ? ) was born in 1955 in Monongahela. At the age of 24, on June 14, 1980, she was united in holy matrimony with John Roy Hoppe (Sept. 13, 1955- ? ). The nuptials were held at the post chapel at Fort George G. Meade, MD. With their home in Cheverly, MD, Deborah has earned a living as an administrator and John as a technical writer. They are the parents of Rachel Julia Hoppe and Sarah Jean Hoppe.
Son Ralph "David" Miner Jr. (1957-2008) was born in 1957 in Monongahela. On Sept. 1, 1979, in services held at St. Matthews Methodist Church in Bowie, he wedded Linda Darlene Dyrland (1957- ? ), a native of Tampa. He has worked as a building operations and service specialist and she as a physical science technician. They bore two children, Kirstyn Louise Miner and Joshua Miner. Their home in 2002 was in Bowie and in 2008 in New Carrollton, MD. David is believed to have endured heart problems later in life, and sadly passed away at the age of 50 on Valentine's Day 2008. Funeral services were held at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Bowie, with an obituary appearing in the Washington Post.
Daughter Patricia Marie Miner (1961- ? ) was born in 1961 in Charleroi, Washington County, PA and grew up in Maryland. When she was 23 years old, on April 27, 1985, she married 27-year-old Steven Ernest Woodring (1958- ? ). The wedding was held at the Village Baptist Church in Bowie. The couple has produced a son, Robert Ernest Woodring. Later, she was joined in wedlock with Kevin Holmes ( ? - ? ). Two other children are part of this family, including Jacob (?) and Benjamin (?).
~ Daughter Mary Marlene (Miner) Hiltabidel ~
Daughter Mary Marlene (Miner) Hiltabidel (1936-1966) was born on Oct. 1, 1936.
On June 30, 1955, when she was 18 years of age, she was joined in holy wedlock with 21-year-old Vernon Royce Hiltabidel (Nov. 14, 1933-2006), son of Clarence P. "Petey" and Ida (Shipley) Hiltabidel of Mill Run.
They lived in Mill Run and produced these children -- Clifford Neal Hiltabidel and Tina Marie Hiltabidel.
For four decades, Vernon was employed by Anchor Hocking Glass Corporation in South Connellsville. The Hiltabidels were members of the Indian Creek Baptist Church in Mill Run, with Marlene known to have attended social functions of the church.
Heartbreak blanketed the family in 1965 when Marlene began to suffer from heart issues and was in and out of Connellsville State Hospital. She underwent open heart surgery in Pittsburgh, and when her kidneys failed afterward, she passed into eternity at the age of only 30.
Vernon outlived his wife by many years and wedded again to Antoinette "Toni" Mysko ( ? - ? ). He was carried away at home by the Angel of Death at the age of 72 on May 11, 2006. Rev. Don Bowser officiated at the funeral service, with interment in Indian Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, and an obituary printed in the Connellsville Daily Courier.
Son Clifford Neal Hiltabidel (1958-2006) was born on June 13, 1958. He was pictured in the Connellsville Daily Courier when reaching his first birthday. On May 21, 1983, when he was 24 years of age, he married a distant cousin, 20-year-old Amy Lynn Younkin (1963- ? ), daughter of Calvin R. "Junior" and Beryl (Sparks) Younkin of the family of William Henry and Rachel (McClintock) Younkin. They are the parents of Lindsay Beth Fireston, Jared Blake Hiltabidel and Taylor Nichole Hiltabidel. Clifford earned a living as a labor foreman in construction projects with Trumbull Corporation in Pittsburgh and belonged to Union Local No. 1058. In his spare time, he enjoyed watching automobile racing with a special love for NASCAR events. With his health in decline, Clifford was admitted to UPMC Shadyside in Pittsburgh. At the age of 47, he passed away there on Jan. 27, 2006. His remains were placed into eternal repose in Indian Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, with the funeral service officiated by Rev. John B. Davis. Amy wedded a second time to Thomas Baglio ( ? - ? ). They live in Somerset, Somerset County.
Daughter Tina Marie Hiltabidel (1961- ? ) was born in 1961 in Connellsville State Hospital. News of her birth was printed in the Connellsville Daily Courier. At the age of nine, she and Lisa Shearer were pictured in the Daily Courier for their doll display at the Mill Run Community Fair and Fayette County Fair. In 1981, she bore a set of twins, Michael Anthony Hiltabidel and Misty Dawn Lowry. Tina resided in Addison, Somerset County in 2006.
~ Daughter Donna Marie Miner ~
Daughter Donna Miner (1938-living) was born in 1938 in Mill Run.
Growing up on the Fallingwater estate of Edgar and Lillian Kaufmann in Mill Run, she worked for the family during her young adult years and later, after their deaths, by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
Donna always was a very private person and never married. She maintained a home with her parents while they were alive.
She attended Career Academy dental school and graduated in 1968. She then went on to a long career as a dental assistant in a dentistry practice in Scottdale, in the employ of Dr. Thomas Gretz followed by Dr. Edward Thornblade.
Over the years, Donna has been active with commemorating Fallingwater as a treasure. As a volunteer, she helped provide oral history insights which have been treasured. She helped mount a special exhibit in 2004, entitled “A Fallingwater Home Coming.” She also contributed knowledge and photographs for our family’s 2004 national reunion on the theme of "Fallingwater: A Long Family Affair."
Donna kindly responded to an exploratory letter from the founder of this website in 1984. Several years later, she and her late mother opened their home in Mill Run to him and continued to do so in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They both were always generous in their sharing of family history. This website would not have been possible without them.
Said the Connellsville Daily Courier:
Donna enjoyed nature hikes, bird watching, gardening, horseback riding, reading, listening to music, cooking, going off-road in her Jeep, and traveling. She was a lifelong member of the Indian Creek Baptist Church in Mill Run, where she was a member of the American Baptist Women's Ministries and a former Sunday school and Vacation Bible School teacher, as well as a Cradle Roll Superintendent. Donna was a family historian and archivist, preserving scrapbooks, photographs and other memorabilia related to the Miners, Skinners, Friends, Tissues, and Fallingwater. She will be fondly remembered for her caring acts of kindness, as she prepared and delivered meals to shut-ins and transported friends to appointments. Donna lived her faith in her daily life. Although she had no children of her own, she was involved in the lives of her nieces, nephews, and many children in the neighborhood. She took them on nature walks, teaching them about flowers, birds and local history. She introduced many of them to stage plays and musicals. Donna enjoyed going to the movies and amusement parks with "the kids" as much as they did.
Her final years were spent in Monarch Meadow Personal Care Home, Uniontown. At the end, she was in the care of OSPTA Hospice. She passed into eternity at the age of 81 on June 15, 2020. In an obituary in the Daily Courier, the family asked that any memorial donations be made to Storehouse Mission Support, Orchard Park, NY and designated for The Hope Center Honduras, or to Christian Family and Children's Center, Champion, PA.
~ Son Francis "Kerwin" Miner ~
Son Francis "Kerwin" Miner (1948-living) was born in 1948 in Mill Run.
Kerwin attended Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA.
On Oct. 2, 1971, at the age of 23, he was united in marriage with Sylvia "Denise" Kessler ( ? -living), the daughter of Warren and Virginia Ruth (Friend) Kessler.
Denise is doubly step-related to the Minerd-Miner clan through her mother's side of the family -- through the Harbaugh branch of James R. and Mary Eliza (Harbaugh) Hall of Maple Summit, Fayette County.
They made a home in 1980 in or near Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, MD. Later, they returned to Mill Run.
The couple has one son, Nicholas Miner, born in Annapolis.
Denise has been a longtime tour guide and now public tour manager at Fallingwater, and was instrumental in helping coordinate our 2004 national family reunion. She appears in an interview in the nationally distributed DVD presentation, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, a special two-disk collection; and also in Saving Fallingwater, a video broadcast on PBS in 2010, and produced by Ken Love (seen here, available in the Fallingwater gift shop).
Kerwin and Denise are listed in the 1975 paperback book, Brooks Family History.
Son Nicholas Miner (1980- ? ) was born on Dec. 30, 1980 in Annapolis, MD. He has served in the U.S. Navy. He has a son, Colby. He is married to Kumi.
Copyright © 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2019-2020 Mark A. Miner