Family, farming and community service Carl Miller lives by his motto
Leaving things better than he found them is Carl Miller’s motto.
The 85-year-old has always remembered his grandfather’s words from his teenage years, and he said they shaped his life. Whether he’s working on his farm, spending time with his family or serving in one of his many avenues of community service, he always tries to leave the world better than he found it.
Miller credits his grandparents for raising him to become the man he is today, and he said his wife, Bonnie, has been the major influence in his adult life.
“It’s been a very interesting life, and it all boils down to a couple things,” he said. “Our children and our wonderful grandchildren.”
Miller said he and Bonnie have worked together to run their home, raise their children — Jeff Miller, Joni Faeth and Greg Miller — and have supported one another in their community involvement.
“Bonne is the driving force in our family,” he said. “It’s gotten kind of scary. We actually think alike. For 67 years we’ve been involved together, and we’re not done yet.”
He and Bonnie will be celebrating 63 years of marriage March 7 — and they dated for four years before that.
“We’re very proud of that,” he said. “She’s the driving force behind Carl Miller. It’s just that simple.”
Miller said he feels “very blessed and fortunate” to have his family.
“I’m proud to say that all of our grandchildren, except one, have completed or are in college,” he said. Five are studying or are settled into careers, and the youngest of the six has been accepted at Ohio State University.
Providing a stable family for his children as they grew up was important to Miller because his world was rocked at age 12 when his parents divorced.
“I love my mother and my father, but they didn’t get along,” he said. “They did well by splitting up.”
However, it forced changes in his life that he didn’t want. He moved into Tiffin with his mother, and he didn’t want to leave the farm.
“I like the wide open spaces too much,” he said.
There were a few rough years when he was a young teen, Miller said, where he could have veered onto the “wrong path.”
But he went to live with his grandparents on the farm instead.
“I was a bullheaded little kid and I ended up prevailing,” he said. “I’m still bullheaded.”
Miller said he started farming in 1949, at age 14, when his grandmother signed a note for him to buy $1,600 worth of farm machinery.
“That’s 70 years on the same dirt where I was born,” he said.
He graduated in 1952 from Columbian High School, and remained with his grandparents and continued farming until he went into the U.S. Air Force in 1956.
While he served in the Air Force from 1956 to 1960, he and Bonnie were starting their family. When they returned home, he returned to farming, taking over from other family members who kept the farm going while he was away.
In addition, Miller worked at General Electric for a time and for another company or two before moving on to American Standard as a design and automation engineer in 1968.
Bonnie went to work at Old Fort school and stayed for 25 years, retiring as an intervention specialist. During those years, he said he admired her determination to advance her studies by graduating from Bowling Green State University, Ashland University and the University of Toledo.
“She’s very dedicated in all she’s done also,” he said.
Miller said he always has been involved in the community as well farming and working off the farm.
A life of service
One of the many community activities he’s been involved in has been on the board of the Seneca County Park District.
He retired from the board in December.
Miller’s involvement with the park district started when the board decided to expand itself from three members to five members.
“I just happened to know Rolly Zimmerman and he asked if I’d turn my name in to be a board member,” he said. “And that was 12 years ago.”
He was happy he agreed.
“I think as far as accomplishments, that’s probably the greatest accomplishment I’ve ever been involved with,” Miller said. “The county should realize we have a jewel here.
“We’ve got a gem here and we want to keep it,” he said. “One of our biggest accomplishments has been this park district.”
The first part of his tenure on the board was spent building and growing despite having no money. Board members, volunteers and businesses owners used their own time and money for 20 years to create the park system.
“They invested their time, equipment and money,” he said. “We solicited funds. All these people were pearls.”
But the board and volunteers knew the park district they had built needed permanent support, and voters agreed in 2016 by approving an operating levy.
“If we didn’t get the levy, those parks weren’t going to be operable,” he said. “Money was serious because, at one point, we didn’t have enough to pay the real estate tax.”
As the park district moved into its next phase, Miller said he and Zimmerman and the rest of the board began to realize they had to let go of the reins they had held for so many years.
“We turned it over to a director that has proved herself to be very competent,” Miller said. “We turned over a huge accomplishment. That was the hardest thing to do, give it up and give it to Sarah (Betts).
“You want to make sure it’s secure,” he said. “You don’t want something to go amiss after you’ve put all that effort in.”
Miller said he’s going to remain involved by being a member of the Strategic Planning Committee.
“Look at it today. It’s beautiful,” he said. “I hope the county realizes what we have.”
Within the park district, Miller said one of the board’s “proudest” accomplishments has been Out & About Preschool.
He said he visits the preschool at Garlo Heritage Nature Preserve.
“To think that we provided a spot for that to happen,” he said. “Seeing the joy on the faces of those little kids, everybody should go out and see it.”
On to a new board
Shortly before he retired from the park board, Miller said he took on a new board.
“My meetings are now in Columbus instead of in Tiffin,” he said.
His latest endeavor is on the board of directors of the Ohio Scenic Rivers Association, which organized in November to work toward protecting Ohio’s water resources so the state’s scenic waterways “remain healthy for people and wildlife to enjoy far into the future.”
He said he’s the only person on the board who lives north of Interstate 70, so provides a voice on the board for northern Ohio, and for agriculture. He said he’s been teaching other board members about no-till farming.
But he doesn’t plan to stay on the board for too many years.
“When you become 85 years old, somebody else should take over,” he said. He suggested his son, Jeff Miller of Solon, who is working in banking and crop insurance in the Cleveland area but returns home to help farm when he can.
So the board’s officers are President Tom Bootch, Vice President Hope Taft, Secretary Anthony Sasson and Treasurer Jeff Miller.
Miller said his son eventually will take over the farm, but he hopes that won’t be for a while because he doesn’t intend ever to retire from farming, at least not until he becomes unable to continue or “when the hearse goes down the road.”
During his 70-odd years of farming, Miller said agriculture has undergone many changes, and he said it’s important for farmers to make adaptations to reduce the effect on Lake Erie.
“Lake Erie is part of agriculture,” he said. Changes over time to Lake Eire eventually will turn it into a swamp, he said. “You can slow it down, but you can’t stop it.”
The best method of slowing the sediment and accompanying nutrients that move into the lake is starting at the farm fields by leaving grass buffer strips between each stream and crops.
“That’s how you slow down the degradation of Lake Erie,” he said. “H2Ohio has already started. You can pay farmers for not farming next to the rivers and streams.
“Some people say stop using chemicals,” he said. But he explains to them why the chemicals are needed to make farming profitable and so farmers can feed the world.
“Water is most important asset – not dollars and cents, but water,” he said.
In addition to his work on the state association, Miller is a member of the Sandusky River Council led by Christina Kuchle, manager of ODNR’s Scenic Rivers Program for the Sandusky and Maumee rivers, as well as the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition, led by Jakob Boehler and Heidelberg’s National Center for Water Quality Research.
Both local groups work to improve the health of the Sandusky River.
“Every citizen should be aware of this,” he said.
More community service
Through the years, Miller said served on many other boards and committees.
“I’ve had a good life and I feel fortunate to have given back to the community,” he said.
Much of his involvement pertained to youth.
“We volunteered for years and years and years,” he said.
Starting in the 1960s, he was a Scout master, 4-H adviser and a youth baseball coach.
“We took the tickets at basketball games for 28 years,” he said.
And they were instrumental in developing PM Gillmor Park.
“I went to Paul Gillmor and he said what do you need,” he said. “I’ve never been afraid to ask for money.”
In the 1970s, he said be became involved with the Junior Fair and the livestock sale.
“I have many hours of going to businesses for money to support the sale,” he said.
He, Roland Zimmerman and others worked to get the fair’s Superbarn built, and then worked to create the Junior Fair buyer’s group in the early 1990s.
Miller collected donations from supporters and pooled it. He then acted as a buyer for the group during the sale to provide price supports.
“The purpose was to make sure nothing was sold below market price, and we succeeded in doing that,” he said. “They all got a bonus.”
Getting the group started was time consuming, Miller said, but it did two things.
“We gave the kids a service,” he said. But it also benefitted me. I got to talk to all the business professionals and business owners in Seneca County. It was fun.”
He said he has no idea how much money he solicited from businesses through the years.
“At one point, I walked into a door and a guy said, ‘How much do you want and who’s it for,'” he said. “It really did me more good than anybody else. I was glad to distribute all that money.”
The buyer’s group continues its mission.
“Scott and Stacy Kiesel took over and they do a wonderful job,” he said.
In the 1980s, Miller said he followed another path and joined the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadron, a nonprofit organization dedicated to boating safety and education.
“In the ’80s our main thrust was boating education,” he said. And he assisted with the creation of the state course required of all new boaters.
He also ran patrols on Lake Erie as a volunteer, and he also enjoys fishing on Lake Erie, so he got a license to be a charter boat captain.
He said he enjoyed taking his family fishing, and he still has his boat.
“Now I’m retired from the active auxiliary, but I’m still a member of the auxiliary,” he said.
Volunteering sometimes isn’t easy, he said.
“One of the bad things I had to do on the board of (the) Betty Jane (Center) was to cease operations,” he said. “What’s left of Betty Jane is now under the Tiffin Foundation.”
And more community service
Two of the community organizations Miller is a part of today are Project Lifesaver, which helps to buy equipment to help find people with disabilities who might wander off, and Old Fort Lions – for 45 years.
“That’s very important,” he said. “I’ve been president three times.”
Miller was appointed in January to another term on the Sandusky County-Seneca County-City of Tiffin Port Authority, which oversees operation of the Northern Ohio & Western Railway, a short line rail operated by OmniTRAX.
“It’s an important board to be on to give your views and so forth,” he said.
The board was put in place when the two counties and city bought the short line railroad from Woodville to Tiffin in the late 1980s for more than $1 million, he said.
“It’s a link between CSX and Norfolk & Southern,” he said. And provides local transportation for business and industry.
Miller also is a member of Tiffin-Seneca Izaak Walton, Seneca County Pheasants Forever and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
“I think you should do your best to fulfill your duty,” he said. “You have a duty to the county. You have to give back what the county has given you – and they’ve given me a lot.
“I think I’ve benefited more than the county has,” he said, “That always goes back to my grandpa. Leave it better than you found it.”
Miller said he doesn’t like accolades, but likes to serve as an example.
“Give something back,” he said. “Do volunteering. There always something for you to do.”
Miller said he has spent a lot of his volunteer time soliciting money for a great many projects.
“Time, money, equipment,” he said. “The answer can’t be any worse than no.”
His ‘working’ years
Prior to his retirement in 1992 as vice president of AS Energy, a subsidiary of American Standard. He was in charge of 41 natural gas wells that provided the fuel needed to operate the plant.
“My biggest job was designing, along with some professional help, and securing the right of way to build a pipeline from Tiffin to Wayne County to transport gas to the American Standard plant in Tiffin,” he said.
At the time, he said natural gas wasn’t readily available so he arranged with private landowners with public roadways and other entities to get the pipeline built.
“Natural gas was in limited quantities in the early ’80s,” he said. “That was the best job, other than farming, I’ve ever done.
“That pipeline is still operating today,” he said. American Standard sold it at one point, and today he said the line delivers natural gas to rural communities along its 80-mile route through an energy cooperative.
Retirement ushered in Miller’s next challenge when Hank Elchert, then superintendent of Sentinel Career Center, asked him to consider substitute teaching.
He said he had become certified in welding because he was in charge of welding on the pipeline.
“I reluctantly agreed, and that led to 10 years of substitute teaching at Sentinel,” he said. “Wonderful years.”
Miller said he substituted in every class area, except cosmetology, from 1992-2002.
“The most nervous I’ve ever been in my life is the first day I went to teach at Sentinel,” he said. “But it was a wonderful experience. If I had had another occupation other than farming and engineering, I would have a been a teacher.”
It’s not all about work
Through the years, Miller said he and Bonnie have found the time to travel to Europe, Hawaii and Alaska.
“I’ve not found one place everywhere we traveled that’s better than home,” he said.
Even when he was fishing on one of his five trips to Alaska.
“We were next to the water, and you could see far enough you could see Russia,” he said.
An avid hunter, Miller said he achieved his goal of getting a brown bear in Alaska. Just him and a guide.
“I saw wildlife at its greatest,” he said. “Brown bears, moose, caribou. Elk in Colorado.”
Miller has no plans to slow down.
“You got to have a vision of what you want to do,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I’m not going to slow down. I’m still going to be involved.
“I’m blessed,” he said. “I’ve got myself pretty loaded up right now. That’s not to say something new night not come along.”
But he knows he’s had lots of birthdays.
“I don’t want to consider getting old,” he said. “But it’s inevitable. My brain is still as sharp as it used to be.
“It’s amazing when you think about it what you’ve done with your life,” he said. “And I’m not done yet.”
He never forgot his grandfather’s words.
“You leave something better than you found it,” he said. “That’s really been my motto.
“Many times, I think I’ve accomplished that.”
And if everybody did that?
“Leave it better than you found it,” he said. “If everybody did that and had that vision, imagine what we could accomplish.”