Successful businessman was known for his generosity. He also played a big role at Taft College for decades
John Miller rose from humble beginnings growing up in the 1920s and '30s on an oil lease near Maricopa to become a leader in the Taft Community for more than half a century.
He touched hundreds of lives directly and thousands more indirectly as a businessman and served Taft College for more than four decades on the Board of Trustees and later the Taft College Foundation.
He passed away at age 96 on Aug. 25 following complications from surgery.
Long time friend, retired Taft College Superintendent-President David Cothrun remembers Miller like this:
"It has been a wonderful friendship. John was the most honest man I ever met and he and Betty were a great asset to Taft College and the whole Westside." Miller's memory and his accomplishments were honored at a memorial service Friday at the United Methodist Church, where he and wife Betty had been members since 1946. "In life, it's not what you get. It's what you spread, what you scatter," said Don Zumbro, a longtime friend of Millers. A very successful businessman and family man, Miller had a knock for helping and connecting with people. He operated Ideal Market on the 600 block of Sixth Street for many years, then moved over to Pacific Perforating in 1969. Ideal Market was the ideal place for John to connect with people. From extending credit to people in need of groceries to catering and barbecuing for oil companies, it put him in contact with people in the industry that provided important business contacts. But it wasn't all business. Fellow Rotarian Larry Tiller was one of the people Miller helped.
Tiller talked at last week's Rotary meeting about how he first met Miller.
He came to Taft in 1961 as a new teacher and moved into an apartment behind Ideal Market. Soon after he unpacked, Miller came over and introduced himself. He told Tiller that he knew it was a long time until his first paycheck, and offered to extend credit for groceries (with no interest) until he got paid.
John did that for a lot of people.
"I can't tell you how many retired Taft teachers have told me 'Your dad saved my butt. When I came to Taft I didn't have enough money to eat and he let me have anything I wanted,'" Miller's son Roger said.
The back of the market served as a kitchen for Taft College students before the cafeteria opened, often providing them with their only meals.
Miller learned his values from people who helped him.
Roger explained how his dad worked summers on Washburn Ranch on the Carrizo Plain, living in a bunkhouse.
Rancher Bill Washburn hired him to help harvest wheat.
Washburn taught John a lot, Roger said.
"My dad, through Bill Washburn, learned about self-sufficiency," Roger said. "Up there, you had to get water from a well, raise your own beef, pork and chickens, hire a crew to harvest a huge acreage of wheat and repair all your own equipment. To be a man, you had to be strong enough to take care of your own problems. That really molded him as a man."
Washburn also helped him get a job working in an aircraft assembly plant in Southern California after graduating from Maricopa High, where John met his future wife of 75 years, Betty.
From the McDonnell plant, Miller joined the Army Air Corps and became a pilot. His military duty took him to Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Arkansas, where he flew B-24’s and B-25’s along with many training aircraft.
Flying became one of the great passions in his life and he continued to own and fly Cessna and Beech Bonanza aircraft until 2015.
Miller was also a Rotarian for more than half a century and at one point had 25 years of perfect attendance. Combining Rotary and flying brought John great Joy Roger said.
He was part of a group called the Flying Rotarians and they often flew out of Taft Airport, to meet other Rotarians around the state for Rotary Fly-ins.
"That was dear to him," Roger said.
John continued to fly until 2015.
"That man really know how to fly an airplane, even at 90 years old," said Roger, a pilot himself. "It was an honor to be his copilot."
After years of working seven-day weeks at the market, John got a chance to become a partner in Pacific Perforating in 1969 and took it.
He used the contacts he made through catering company barbecues over the years to help grow the business.
With the advent of steam technology in the oilfields, the demand for slotted pipe grew as well.
Miller joined the Taft College Board in the early 1970s, and after resigning briefly when roger was hired there in the mid-70s, served 32 years on the College Board and another decade on the taft College Foundation Board.
Miller was inducted into the first class of the TC Hall of Fame and along with Betty was the recipient of the first Taft College Spirit Award.
During Miller's time on the board, the college underwent a major modernization in the late1970s, established its dental hygiene and Transition to Independent Living programs.
"John supported Taft College with love and passion," said Zumbro, a former vice president at the college. There were also tough times, like the financial crisis that forced the difficult decision to drop sports in 1994, and Cothrun said he's thankful for Miller's leadership.
"John as a Trustee, sometimes acted as a rudder for the Trustees. Keeping the college on the right path. Joined by Caroline Hosking and Larry Buttke, I was blessed for many years with a strong board," Cothrun said. "For a college president, that is God’s gift. The College went through good times and bad times, and in the bad times of a huge loss of revenue, the Board of Trustees had our back in some painful decisions. John was there as our rock."