By: Timothy Kays, THE VILLAGE REPORTER
Michael Frybarger told me of a quote by Michael Josephson that he treasures…“In the end, what will matter is not our memories, but the memories of those we loved and those we helped. What will matter is how long we will be remembered, by whom, and for what. Live a life that matters.”
Judging by that sentiment, Ken ‘Millie’ Miller more than lived up to that standard.
The former Hilltop faculty member, who was born in Portland, Maine, and raised in Massachusetts, taught basic math, algebra 1 and 2, advanced math, eighth grade math, and was also a football and wrestling coach from 1967 to 1974.
What was it that made him so special though? “Well I don’t know,” Michael said. “Just kind of the way that he taught. If he didn’t think you really needed help, he would just kind of guide you and have you do it yourself. If he thought you needed some help, he would lend a hand and work with it on a one on one-type thing.”
After he was done teaching at Hilltop, Michael recalled, “He lived in the area. He worked various factory jobs. I couldn’t tell you all of them. I think that he worked at Arrow Tru Line for a while. The fallout resulting from difficult divorce was a contributing factor to what wound up being an early onset of dementia and being admitted to a nursing home. On January 11 of this year, Ken Miller died in a nursing home in Grand Rapids, Ohio. He passed away and was cremated, but nobody stepped forward to do anything with his remains.
“The funeral home,” Michael said, “…they didn’t know how to get a hold of any family that he had. I think he had a brother and a sister. I don’t know if they ever contacted them at all while he was there. His family life growing up was a lot of turmoil. I don’t think that he got along with anybody in the family; I know his mom and father’s passed away. I don’t know if his sister or brother is still alive yet or not. They were older than him.”
Who was going to step up and begin the process of bringing Ken Miller home? His former students rallied to his cause. “Pam Bly,” said Michael. “She is the widow of one of Millie’s former roommates, Bruce Bly, and she had been going and visiting him once in a while down there. She found out that he passed away and she contacted her sister in law and I think Linda Miller to let her know, and it got put on Facebook. That’s how I found out about it. If it hadn’t been for Facebook…this is one of the times that Facebook did a good thing. A lot of people wouldn’t even have known that he passed away; that’s kind of sad.”
Show Michael Frybarger a need, and he has a tendency to roll up his sleeves and dive in to help…and he was not alone in this endeavor. Ken Miller impacted a lot of young lives during his seven year stint in Cadet Country, an impact that the passage of fifty years could not dim. “Once I found out,” Michael recalled, “I did a little searching and found out what funeral home had done his arrangements, was handling his obituary and all that. They actually were the ones that did the cremation, and it kept saying, ‘Services pending.’ I didn’t know he had been cremated yet, so after a few days of seeing, ‘Services pending,’ I thought something wasn’t right here. There ought to be something up there by now. So I actually called them to find out, and then that’s when they told me that they had his ashes, and although there been a couple other inquiries, they weren’t even sure what they were going to do with them yet. I said, ‘Well, how would somebody maybe go about getting his ashes, because I’d like to bring him home.’ The reason really I’ve been following the obituaries is because I knew he didn’t have a family around, and me and another guy had talked about it and wanted to make sure we got at least a headstone.”
Michael continued, “So basically, I was calling to find out where he was buried, and found he wasn’t buried and they still had his ashes. So they put me in touch with the lady that had been his power of attorney for last 24 years. I called her, and she said there was somebody else that had inquired about this…Pam Bly. I explained to her what I wanted to do was to bring him back here. I had already called the cemetery and found out I could get a plot for him, and I knew he was well enough liked that we could get a headstone. So I told her all that, and she said that sounded like something that would be a good place to go because she didn’t know what to do with it. She didn’t have any family contacts, and basically if somebody wouldn’t have stepped up, the City of Grand Rapids would have decided where and when he would have been buried.” Millie was about to be rescued from the Potter’s Field.
“I did a little messaging and got Pam’s number, and so I called her the next day,” Michael said. “I think she was planning on maybe putting him over in Archbold, and I just said, ‘You know, I already inquired. I can get a plot, and if he’s buried over here by West Unity, anybody he taught or coached or was friends with would be able to go visit him a little easier.’ She agreed, so she got hold of the power of attorney to release the ashes to me. I basically brought him home. Linda Miller had been in contact with Pam. She got a hold of me and asked about doing a fundraiser to get him a headstone. Linda asked if it’d be okay if she started a fundraiser, and I said sure. That ran really well. In less than three days, we had over $3,000. We decided that anything above the cost of the stone is to be donated to the Hilltop Athletic Boosters in Millie’s name since he was a coach.”
His birthday would have been April 12,” Michael said, “…and since that’s a Friday we’re going to be having a Celebration of Life for Millie on April 13, 2019, at the American Legion Post 669 in West Unity, starting at 3:00 p.m. The headstone…we’ve already got that picked out. We’re going to have his picture put on it, and it’s going to say, Ken ‘Millie’ Miller, because that was his nickname. On one side will be a guitar because he played the guitar, and on the other side will be the Ohio State emblem because he’s a big Bucks fan, and a whistle on the football since he was a coach. On the back it’ll say, ‘A good teacher teaches his students how to think…not what to think.’”
Ken ‘Millie’ Miller, the beloved Hilltop teacher and coach, is indeed coming home, but Michael is quick to state that the work done thus far is a product of Millie’s impact on his students five decades ago. “It’s really been a group effort to get this all done…not just me,” he said. “Linda’s had a lot to do with it. Pam put her two cents in, and if you go to that link you can see 50 or 60 people that donated, and I think a lot of those are planning on coming to the Celebration of Life.”
As far as the interment of Ken Miller goes, there are no ceremonies planned as of yet. “It’ll probably be mainly just these friends maybe coming out,” Michael said; “I don’t know. We haven’t even set a date for that. I haven’t got the plot picked out yet; I’ve just been promised one.” Millie’s road home, like any other journey, goes one step at a time.
There will be a time and a place for everything, but everything will add up to the one big thing…Ken ‘Millie’ Miller, whose impact on his students still reverberates over a half-century, is coming home. His was a life that indeed truly mattered.
Timothy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org