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Lavenia Ray

March 19, 2014

Lavenia Ray was born to Atlie and Lonnie Ray February 25, 1923. She re-joined them March 15, 2014, just days after celebrating her 91st birthday. Lavenia spent her childhood in Oktibbeha County in the Adaton community before boarding in Starkville to attend Starkville High School. After graduating MSCW at the age of 19, she began a science-oriented calling at the shell loading facility in Prairie, MS, where she was a chemical analyst during the war efforts. She met and married Wallace O. Miles and moved to several posts in New Jersey and Virginia . During one of these assignments, Lavenia distinguished herself as the first female civilian ambulance driver on the base. She was full of inspiration loved a challenge. Because of her talents and interests, she found opportunities to work in various fields. With her husband serving in the Phillipines during WWII, Lavenia taught school in South Mississippi. While she lived with his parents and taught , her first child, Wally, was born. After the war, the family returned to Starkville, where her husband completed his degree at Mississippi State College. Lavenia worked closer at home as the family grew to include John Ray, Rita, Esther, Dicye, Kim, and Lonnice. She was a talented seamstress, creating wedding gowns, bridesmaids dresses, and home draperies, in addition to sewing her five daughters’ clothing. She contracted with Mullins Department Store, monograming clothing by hand and doing alterations. Lavenia taught science at Starkville High School, retiring with the birth of her seventh child. She will be fondly remembered by students for her field trips, which she planned and took the wheel of the school bus. It was one of these outings when Lavenia drove the bus full of students under the railroad overpass on Washington Street and took the top off the bus .History repeated itself when, in the 60’s, she drove some of her children and their friends to the Hemisfair in Texas in a converted school bus. The long trip was full of adventure, but ended when, once back in Mississippi, she drove into a gas station in the Delta and damaged the bus and the station canopy. She held bragging rights to confronting her fear of heights when, in the 1980’s, she climbed the highest pyramid in Chichen Itza, Mexico, accompanied by Wallace and her five daughters. During calmer times, Lavenia began a venture as entrepreneur in downtown Starkville. She continued sewing and monograming while owning a fabric shop on main street. The next career phase was with Mississippi State’s Aerophysics department, where Lavenia began a long and rewarding career in her field. She completed her graduate studies and higher education degree from MSU, and continued for many years working with the USDA. At Mississippi State, she was involved with the Boll Weevil Lab as scientist before transferring to Stoneville to concentrate on the corn borer. Wallace’s career led him to eventually head the Vocational School at Parchman Penitentiary. With his transfer to a satellite prison facility in Hattiesburg, Lavenia transferred with USDA to Gulfport to the Fire Ant Research Lab. Her brilliant science-oriented career ended with her retirement from USDA, but slowing down was not an option. While on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, she enjoyed a stint as a licensed realtor, acquiring several rental properties, which she managed before re-joining the ranks as teacher in the Hancock County School System. After the death of her husband, Lavenia returned to Starkville to be near her children and grandchildren. Accustomed to activity and involvement, she found herself in the workforce once again as the Pike fraternity housemother at MSU. Above all else, her passion was her children and their friends, her grandchildren, who benefitted continuously from her scientific background, and her great-grandchildren, who were truly the light of her life during recent years. Grandchildren christened her as simply “Sisi”, the name her siblings had always called her.
In addition to her parents, Lavenia was preceded in death by her sister, Agnes Elaine. Survivors include her brother, L.E. Ray, sister, Rita Ray Futral, and seven children: Wallace O. Miles, Jr., John Ray Miles, Rita Miles McReynolds, Dicye Miles Murphy, Lonnice Miles Fields, all of Starkville, Esther Miles Berman of Seattle, WA, and Kim Miles of San Jose, CA; her grandchildren, Connie McReynolds, Davey McReynolds, Denise Miles, Molly Miles Jennings, Michael Miles, Joe Ray Miles, Wade Miles, Lauren Miles, Melanie Murphy Jennings, Caleb Murphy, Mary Esther Murphy Elam, Mark Murphy, Dustin Berman, Chelsea Berman, Dalton Fields, Craig Burke, Jennifer Burke, and Chris Burke.
 Lavenia was influenced by the decision of Dr. John C. Longest, longtime family friend, to become a doner to the University Medical School, where she endowed her remains for science.
A memorial service will be held at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Starkville on Saturday March 22, at 2:30. The family invites and encourages friends of Sisi as well as friends of all family members to visit the family at her home, 714 MLK Dr (Hwy 82 West) on Sunday afternoon from 3:00-5:00 to enjoy reminiscing the life and times of Lavenia Ray Miles, our “Sisi”.
Memorials may be made to Adaton Methodist Church Cemetery Fund or to Adaton Baptist Church Sunday School Fund . The family extends thanks for caring attention Ms Sisi received from Joanne Howard, Eddie Pearl Gibbs, Virginia Boyd, Mary Purnell and Betty Skinner. Our sincere heartfelt appreciation is extended to Dr. Joe Hillman and his staff for their dedicated concern and care.

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