Robert E. Miller, a longtime member of the Brainerd Police and Fire Civil Service Commission and a coach on Brainerd High School’s 1954 state championship boys basketball team, died Wednesday at Woodland Good Samaritan in Brainerd. He was 92.
A teacher by profession, he began his education career in Brainerd in 1942. That career was interrupted by his service with an army field artillery unit during World War II. When he returned to the Brainerd School District, he taught general mechanics in junior high and later wood working at the high school.
“In my mind he was just the most fantastic person,” said Bill Matthies, who served with Miller on the Brainerd Police and Fire Civil Service Commission for more than 20 years. “I just loved the guy. Soft-spoken, intelligent, fun to be with.
“He had a lot of common sense. I just felt when he made a decision it was well thought out. It wasn’t just random.”
Matthies, who was also a former Brainerd School District teacher, said they shared many friends who were involved in sports and education.
Miller retired from teaching in 1983 but continued to have many connections with teachers. In a 2011 interview he said he married his wife, Alma, a home economics teacher, in 1942. Each of his three children went into education and each of them married teachers.
Miller served on Brainerd’s civil service commission from October of 1978 to December of 2011, retiring at the age of 91. Sue Hilgart, chair of the civil service commission, said Miller was a well regarded, kind man who took his responsibilities seriously.
“He was always very well prepared for every meeting,” she said. “He had such a heart for what he was doing.”
Legionville, the education program for safety patrols on the shores of North Long Lake, was another passion of Miller’s.
John W. Torma, funding chairman for Legionville, remembered Miller from his service on Legionville’s board of directors.
“He was one of the main go-getters to make that Legionville go,” he said. “He had lots to do with setting it up and making it happen. Legionville was his pride and joy.”
Darien DeRocher of rural Brainerd, Don Hauck of Brainerd and Gene Loya of Lake Shore were members of the 1954 championship basketball team that Miller served as an assistant coach under Fred Kellett.
“He was adored by everyone that knew him,” DeRocher said. “I don’t think you’d ever find a better human being than Bob Miller. He knew when to praise you and when to chastise you.”
DeRocher said that Miller was probably his most influential coach, along with John Gagliardi of St. John’s University. DeRocher played at St. John’s from 1954-57.
“Fred (Kellett) did most of the talking,” DeRocher said. “He (Miller) was very low key. When he had a message it was very well received.”
Hauck remembered Miller as a fine man whom he knew as both a coach and teacher. Hauck also worked for Miller as a counselor when Miller was director at Legionville and as an American Legion member.
Loya said Miller could be strict but was generally easy to get along with.
“Just a great, likeable person,” Loya said. “He complemented Fred Kellett as a coach.”