Jim Miller of Omena, Michigan (formerly of Coronado, CA), passed away on February 23, 2023. His wife and daughter were at his side. He was born April 17, 1941 in Bakersfield, CA to the late Mary (Roberts) Morrison and Alvin Miller.
Jim was a proud American, a volunteer, and a loving family man. He believed in working hard and developed many skills along the way. Over his 25-year career with Caterpillar subsidiary Solar Turbines of San Diego, he worked his way through the ranks from a night shift forklift operator to the head of the purchasing department. Some may remember his daily kayaking commute across San Diego Bay to Solar in the dark, early hours avoiding SEAL team ops and Navy ships. He enjoyed his career very much, meeting many in his travels, national and international, and making friendships that lasted into retirement.
In his early years, Jim was a welder and ironworker for a ski-lift manufacturer in Carson City, NV. He went back to school and took real estate and industrial engineering to further his career in manufacturing. All of these experiences led not only to skills and knowledge but hilarious stories that he would share willingly.
Jim was very proud of his time in the military and it became a reference point in his life. He volunteered for the Regular U.S. Army, serving with 8th Ordnance Company in Bavaria, W. Germany and was honorably discharged in 1965. Fifty years later, he put up a website to seek out his army buddies—and he did hear from many. A small group reunited in San Antonio with their elderly lieutenant colonel from those days of the early 1960s in Germany.
In 2019, Jim returned to Germany for a nostalgic visit and to look up old friends, going back to his army base and the barracks where he lived for three years. He especially wanted to visit the “guest house” where he’d apparently spent many nights, being one of the few non-locals that was permitted to sit at the “locals only” table. He must have made an impression as a young GI; a waitress that was still working there remembered him from those long-ago days. Jim wore his old uniform one more time when his niece, Lindsey Wurtz, asked him to be part of her ROTC graduation at Michigan State University in 2020. He rendered her first salute as she was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army. He was proud and honored to take part in this ceremony as she began her new career, also in tanks, as he had been. Lindsey is now training in Poland.
In his 40s, after smoking for 28 years, Jim took up serious running and trained for a marathon with a first time run of 3:22. He would tell Kathy’s sixth grade classes, “Imagine what I might have done if I’d never smoked.”
After Jim’s retirement from Caterpillar, he continued to volunteer. He chaired the Coronado Civil Service Commission and was a member of the San Diego downtown YMCA Board of Directors as a representative for Solar Turbines. He also gave of his time with a Solar volunteer group to work in Chula Vista elementary schools with weekend projects to improve old school structures; Kathy’s school, Mueller Elementary, being one of them.
After many years in Coronado, the Millers made the major decision to retire to Omena, Michigan after having spent many summers there, Kathy’s home state. Coronado friends questioned their sanity leaving beautiful Coronado but Jim and Kathy were ready and eager to take it on. At the end of that first summer, new friends and neighbors still laugh at the crazy native Californian observed putting OUT their first raft on Labor Day into Omena Bay, part of Lake Michigan—Jim not realizing that is when locals take IN all water-related gear, in preparation for the “gales of November” which can come in September. That first winter in their new house was an adventure, a definite learning curve for them both.
In Omena, Jim continued giving of his time as a board member for the Omena Historical Society. He created their website and was an editor, writer, and photographer for their magazine, “Timelines.” He worked on the exhibit committee and enjoyed the challenges of creating new museum exhibits portraying Omena’s rich history. His creativity and imagination were put to good use. He also enjoyed becoming involved with the Omena Traverse Yacht Club (where no one owns a yacht) and helping out with various projects whether it involved getting rid of mice, bats, and other varmints, or overseeing projects in a building that is over 100 years old. He was always available to help or problem solve. Jim and Kathy were members of the Suttons Bay Congregational Church. He was also an active member and elder of the historic Omena Presbyterian Church, which is only open in the summer months.
Jim was a self-taught artist, beginning in his 40s with drawings, woodworking, and painting. In later years, he became a photographer, embracing the natural beauty of Leelanau County. He partnered with a local pilot friend to get many aerial views of northern Michigan. His legacy will be the many iconic collage prints and paintings seen all over the area in private homes and public sites.
Most of all, Jim was proud of his family. He is survived by his wife, Kathy (who he met on a blind date at the Coronado golf course), his loving daughter, Heidi (Henry) Hoffman, his beloved granddaughters, Sarah Elizabeth and Amelia Rose, and his sister, Judy Gosnell.
Jim treasured his good friendships, time with his family, motoring Omena Bay in the “Sarahmia” with his granddaughters yelling, “Faster, Papa, faster!”, driving his 1963 U.S. military Dodge M37 Power Wagon, and enjoying life in Omena. His love for his “Michigan Girl” Kathy was apparent to all who knew him as he “continued to march” right up to the end.
Jim was greatly loved. A good friend wrote these words after he passed away: “Jim Miller was the best in so, so many ways… bright, optimistic, funny as hell, witty, up for damn near anything, artistic as can be, great conversationalist, prankster, kind, sweet, imaginative… on and on and on… he was just the best! He’ll be included in all of our conversations for years and years, because he made so many great moments.”
Jim’s celebration of life will be held on Saturday, July 15, at the Presbyterian Church in Omena at 2. A reception will follow at the Omena Traverse Yacht Club. Interment will be at a later time with family present.
Jim’s family would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Kayla from the “Care” Team Hospice of Traverse City.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be sent to: Tunnel of Towers, 2366 Hylan Blvd., Staten Island, NY 10306.
The family is being cared for by the Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home and Cremation Services.
VOL. 113, NO. 13- Mar. 29, 2023
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