virus family fort

Karyn Miller joins children Ally, 17, and Nolan, 15, in playing video games in the fort they built in the family room of their home Friday, March 20, 2020, in Savoy.

Listen to this article

SAVOY — All things being equal, Karyn Miller and her daughter Ally, a high school senior, would rather have been in New York City on Friday waiting in line for a Broadway show. That was the spring break that the Savoy mother and daughter, an aspiring performer, had planned.

Instead, they were gaming in a fort-on-steroids that Ally, 17, and her brother Nolan, 15, erected in the family’s basement when Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that that’s where they should stay for another 18 days.

“I’m not surprised. I think we were all kind of prepared for that, frankly,” Karyn Miller said of the latest order.

With the announcement of five deaths and 585 positive COVID-19 cases Friday, Pritzker issued a shelter-in-place order until April 7.

“The only strategy available to us ... is to mitigate the spread of coronavirus in the most robust manner possible,” he said. “I don’t come to this decision easily. I realize I’m choosing between saving people’s lives and saving people’s livelihoods.”

For the Millers of Savoy, that was just reason to double down and come up with other ways to channel a whole lot of family energy.

Like millions of Americans, Karyn and Mike Miller, the parents of four children and a daughter-in-law, had several sets of family plans altered in the last week.

Nolan, a freshman on Champaign Central High School’s sectional championship boys’ swim team, was supposed to compete last weekend in a YMCA swim meet in Indiana. That was canceled.

Then came word that New York’s Broadway theaters were shutting their doors, precluding Karyn and Ally from heading to the Big Apple to soak up culture. Ally is a senior at Central, trying to narrow her college choices for a major in theater and theater management. That process is a separate challenge for her as in-person visits are being replaced by email communications.

The ever-flexible Karyn then swung into action with her sister-in-law and on Sunday, booked a last-minute Airbnb in Gulf Shores, Ala., for several members of two Miller clans who planned to drive south.

But when her sister-in-law heard beaches were closing, and her sister, a health care worker, cautioned further about travel, Karyn and the rest of the Millers scrapped those plans, too.

“It just started to feel icky, like I’m not being responsible,” Karyn said, adding that her husband had decided to stay in town to help run his business as his employees were scrambling for day care options after schools closed.

Son Evan, from Indianapolis, was supposed to be on a mission trip in New York City this week. When that was canceled, he and his wife, Celeste, whose college academic path has been temporarily altered, decided they wanted to hang out with family in Savoy.

Tuesday’s beautiful weather helped lift the family’s disappointed spirits.

“We have this one picture on our wall that is six years old,” she said. “I always thought it would be fun to recreate.”

The picture was of her two sons and two daughters holding hands at Crystal Lake Park on a beautiful fall day.

Since daughter-in-law Celeste joined the family almost a year ago, Karyn wanted to do a second version including her.

“We were going to go to Crystal Lake, then we decided, we have trees in our backyard. Then we decided to go to the hill at Colbert Park (in Savoy). It’s such a cool picture. That was fun,” she said of her four now older children still holding hands, with Celeste included.

Among other pleasant distractions for some of the family was watching the 1985 movie “Clue.”

“That has sparked us playing (the board game) Clue,” said Karyn, who said Nolan is just learning the strategy, adding to the family’s delight.

“The poor kid has so much energy and can hardly stand it because he can’t be in the pool” she said. “He’s been flipping off the couches into the bean bags. He’s been doing bike rides. He and Evan have been on the trampoline.”

When the weather got a little dicey for being outdoors, Ally and Nolan decided to make a fort.

“They went and built this huge fort/tent. They put lighting in it. They took the fort idea times 100 and half of our basement has sheets,” she said with a laugh. “We have a TV down there and that’s where Nolan games, is watching ‘Star Wars,’ and we’re hanging out down there, eating chocolate.”

With another college-age daughter, Anica, about to move back home from Bloomington where she attends Illinois State, for the next several weeks, Karyn said they’ll likely continue “watching more TV than normal,” reading and getting outside for walks and bike rides as much as possible.

“I’m having to run the dishwasher more,” she said. “I’m not used to them all being here.”


Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

Trending Videos