James J. Miller

Died Jan. 18, 2019


James Jeffrey Miller, 78, formerly of Fairview, passed away Jan. 18, 2019.

Jim entered this world March 28, 1940, in the small Northern Michigan town of Fairview. The youngest by 10 years, Carrie and Chancy Miller welcomed Jim to the lineup of Dick, Edna, Mildred “Mud”, Ruth, Otis and Lotis (the Twins) and Willard “Wop.” Jim grew up on the farm and eventually helped run the family grocery store and coffee shop. Jim was a dreamer: creative, musical, philosophical and ready for adventure. He headed off to Goshen College in Indiana after high school; however, the Vietnam War rerouted him to Portland, Ore., as a conscientious objector, fulfilling his 1-W service. While in Portland, he served as an orderly and eventually a surgical assistant at Good Samaritan Hospital. He lived at the Voluntary Service unit provided by the Mennonite Board of Missions, along with 11 other young people fulfilling their service. In the evenings and on weekends, the unit held church and Bible studies, hosted youth events and grew their own spiritual lives (while also pulling a few pranks). The 12 young people in the VS house became lifelong friends. While in Portland, Jim met and fell in love with a pretty young nurse named Judith Miller when she joined the Bible study at the VS unit. He often said “she chased me until I caught her.”

After turning down a full-ride medical scholarship, Jim followed Judi to work at La Junta Hospital in La Junta, Colo., where they were married Aug. 9, 1963. Married life started with a return to college for Jim at Hesston College in Kansas, where Judi served as the school nurse. He continued his dream of missionary work by pursuing his teaching degree at Goshen College in Indiana, where their first daughter, Rachel, was born. With degree in hand, the young family headed to their first assignment in Robstown, Texas. Jim taught school and worked with the local VS programs and churches. Amy was born in Robstown. When he was accepted into grad school, Jim moved the family to Edinburgh, Texas, completing his master’s in education. After the birth and death of infant son Stephen, the family felt unsure of the future, despite buying a house and settling into a teaching job at the local elementary school. After Kevin was born a year later, extended family and the mission board felt it was time for Jim to bring the family back to Fairview to help take care of his mother, Carrie.

Ten great years followed in Michigan. Jim became a teacher and then the elementary principal/ guidance counselor. Jim brought music and storytelling to Fairview Mennonite Church, leading many of the children’s stories and singing with the Watchman Quartet. His greatest achievement was in dreaming and then building a nursing home in his hometown. However, Jim had the adventurer’s itch, which led to five exciting years at Kodaikanal International School in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, India. Jim served as the school’s counselor, taught psychology, was a dorm parent to 34 middle school boys and eventually helped design and build a middle school complex, becoming the first middle school administrator. India, its people and the many children he met affected Jim and his philosophy on life and spirituality for the rest of his life. His motto of “seek and share the truth” was the driving force behind his daily interactions.

With Rachel back in the U.S., Amy on her way to college and Kevin ready to head back, Jim moved the family first to Indiana, then to Arizona and finally to Salem, Ore., where he became the development director for Western Mennonite School. Jim was actively involved with growing the international student population of the school. Jim and Judi often served as “adopted parents” of kids from around the globe. By building their unique hillside home in west Salem, Jim and Judi provided a warm and inviting place for kids, grandkids and friends to eat, play and laugh together. Eventually, Jim’s career moved back to his roots as a counselor at Englewood Elementary School in Salem, Ore. He also served as a court-appointed special advocate volunteer, putting his heart and soul into healing and justice for many children who needed him.

Jim’s heart had a difficult time keeping up with his vivacious personality and drive. After several heart attacks and in need of a heart surgery, Jim finally retired in 2010. In 2012, Jim and Judi made the tough decision to leave their lovely home and move to Eugene to be close to Rachel, her husband Tom and their kids. Jim’s woodworking, coffee club and men’s group (who searched for the best pancakes in town) slowed down and a move was necessary late in 2018 to Bayberry Commons. There, Jim found a way to endear himself to the staff, while struggling to live the philosophical and creative life he always loved. On Jan. 18, 2019, he decided to slip off to see his parents, siblings and son after Judi told him it was OK to go.

Jim leaves behind Judith Miller, his wife of 55 years; daughters, Rachel (Thomas) Ulrich and Amy (Dan) Miller; son, Kevin (Uyen) Miller; along with seven grandchildren, Ben (Jenae) Ulrich, Alex (Jade) Ulrich, Chris (Chelsey) Chupp, Shawn (Jordan) Chupp, Shannon (Nathaniel) Clanton, Carrie (Seth) Chupp and Audrey Miller; and three wonderful great-grandsons, Kayden, Walden and Elliott, who will hear stories and be raised to know this amazing man. Jim’s brother, Willard, resides in Fairview; and many nieces and nephews are scattered across the Midwest.

A memorial service will be held at Western Mennonite Church on the campus of Western Christian School, 9045 Wallace Rd. NW, Salem, Ore., on Saturday, Feb. 2, at 3 p.m. The service will be streamed live on the Facebook page of Western Mennonite Church so that our friends and family around the world can join in tribute to James J. Miller.


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