Fred Miller fought in World War II, raised a family, achieved career success, and had a long, fruitful retirement. But, in his eyes, his time as a Chaminade football player rose above almost all of it. Miller played guard at the high school in Mineola and, in 1942, was named the first winner of Newsday's Thorp Award, given to Nassau County’s most outstanding football player.
“Beyond his family, it was one of his proudest accomplishments,” said daughter Elaine Miller, 67, of Dayton, Ohio.
The award is still given out annually, and Miller’s name will forever live on as the original winner. Miller, who graduated from Chaminade in 1943 and lived most of his life in Ohio, died Jan. 6 at a rehab facility in Dayton, where he was recovering from a broken hip, his family said. He was 94.
“He talked about Chaminade all the time," said his wife of 69 years, Janice Miller. "He loved being at Chaminade. He talked about that a lot. He always said he had a wonderful education at Chaminade.”
Born Jan. 30, 1925, in Floral Park, Miller grew up in Sea Cliff. He played football in the Alter Boys League in Sea Cliff and learned from his father, Bill, who managed a local football team.
“Mrs. Miller always complained that in the offseason (Bill) had all the uniforms of the teams in the basement of their home in Sea Cliff,” said classmate and lifelong friend Art Curley, 94, of Wildwood, Florida. “We would go down there once in a while, see all the equipment, and just marvel at it. It was old and beat up in the '30s, but it meant the world to us at that age.”
Curley said that off the field, Miller was quiet, unassuming and kind.
“He was just the nicest fellow you could hope to meet, right from the first day,” Curley said. “Fred was the solid, quiet (type). He was kind of like the heroes in the old westerns, he said little and did a lot. What he said meant a lot.”
Miller was recruited to play football at Notre Dame. He traveled to the South Bend, Indiana, school by train and spent a semester there. Miller was then drafted into the Army and served for three years in the Philippines and Japan during World War II, Elaine said.
Miller did not return to Notre Dame after the war, opting instead for the University of Dayton, where he played football and graduated in 1949 with a degree in business.
“Dad wasn’t overly big, 5-10, maybe 180 pounds,” Elaine said. “Notre Dame was a big school. Guys were bigger and probably faster.”
Miller worked for the United States Defense Department at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio for 30 years. He later worked as an independent representative for private companies looking to do business with the defense department before retiring in the early 1990s, Elaine said.
“Fred loved people," Janice Miller said. "He loved to be around people. He could talk to anyone. He was a very kind, gentle person. He’d do anything for you, if he could. Family came first, of course. We had three lovely children. He was just a good person, a good dad, and had fun with the kids."
Elaine added: “He would go out of his way to be kind to people. We put in his (local) obituary, ‘in lieu of flowers, show someone some kindness and make them smile.’ ”
Miller is survived by his wife Janice, daughters Elaine Miller of Ohio and Carol Miller of Florida, son Tom and daughter-in-law Starr of North Carolina, and predeceased by infant daughter Mary Lynn. A funeral service was held on Jan. 10 in Ohio, and he was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio, Elaine said.