For the past 52 years and more than 90,000 campers later, Legionville has become almost like a second home for Bob Miller.
Miller, a retired Brainerd High School teacher and coach for 41 years, served as the first official camp director for Legionville, starting at the camp in 1948. He retired as camp director 25 years later.
Today at 80, Miller has remained steadfastly involved in the daily operations at the camp, which is in its 63rd year of training 10- to 13-year-olds to become school safety patrol officers. The camp is owned by the Minnesota Department of the American Legion and is on the southeast corner of North Long Lake.
The idea of a school patrol originated with Sister Carmela of the Cathedral School in St. Paul in 1921. The Minnesota State Patrol later adopted it as a statewide program.
Earle Brown, the first chief of the State Patrol, asked that the American Legion in 1935 help create a statewide uniform school patrol program. The early years of the camps were held at the former Crow Wing County fairgrounds and Camp Ripley until 1956. Then the 610-acre site on North Long Lake was purchased.
Since he retired as camp director in 1974, Miller has remained on the Legionville board of directors. He can often be found helping to do repair work on the buildings and grounds at the camp or assisting camp director Tom Sanford.
"He has a lot of strengths and I rely on him heavily," Sanford said of Miller. Sanford, also a Brainerd teacher, has worked at the camp for nine years but only last year took over as camp director. "It's comforting for me to have someone with so much experience and knowledge so close by."
On Sept. 14, 1991, Miller was honored when the main administration building was named the Robert E. Miller Administration Building.
"Being a good Legionnaire, I feel this is a wonderful project and I want to help to make sure it goes well," said Miller. "It's the only camp like it in the United States."
Campers attend for free and are all sponsored by their local VFW, American Legion or PTA.
Miller and his wife Alma have three children and six grandchildren. Two of this children worked as counselors at the camp.
"Going to camp is one of my favorite childhood memories," said Jean Samuelson, Minneapolis, who is Miller's daughter.
Pastor David Holte of Trinity Lutheran Church in Brainerd was an 11-year-old camper from Fergus Falls when he attended Legionville to become a school patrol captain. The second day of camp, he became homesick and walked to the administrative building. His grandfather had died a week earlier, which also played a factor in his unhappiness that day. He had also never spent time away from home before.
"There was a really nice man there and I found out much later that he was Bob Miller," said Holte.
Miller told Holte he was a lucky boy because he had just returned from town with a brand new bottle of little pink pills that cure homesickness. They were actually baby aspirin, but Miller had created his own label on the bottle. He told Holte to take one pill right away and the other one right before bedtime.
"I tried so hard not to lose that other pill and I took it right before bed, just like he said," said Holte. "I did it, and the funny thing is that it worked."
Holte said after that, he had a great time at camp.
"It was a real honor and a real privilege to go to Legionville," said Holte. "I was from a poor family and it was a real gift."
Like many of Legionville's alumni, Holte's daughter, Lise, attended Legionville last year and served as a school patrol captain at Lowell Elementary School.
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