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Clarence Miller achieved much in his life before passing away Wednesday night at the age of 98, but his true legacy might be his deep love for his community.
That love is most evidenced by his generous donation of his 133-acre family farm to Shelby County, which is now known as Red Orchard Park. His nephew, Lowry Miller, said that gift was his uncle’s way of letting the entire community know how much he cared.
“He was a very giving person, not just to his family, but to everyone,” Miller said. “He loved Shelby County very much, and that was the reason he gave up the farm, because he wanted everybody to know how much he loved it.”
Ronald Van Stockum, a longtime friend of Miller’s, wrote a column about him that was published in The Sentinel-Newsin April 2008, the year Miller after donated his family farm, because he said he felt his story needed to be recorded.
He wrote of how Miller was born in Louisville in 1912 to Pleasant Green and Emma Thurman Miller – his father, known as P. Green, was a federal whiskey inspector and, in 1923, became division chief for enforcement of Prohibition – and moved to Shelby County in 1925 to the farm that he eventually donated.
But he wouldn’t stay put for long.
Young Clarence graduated from Shelbyville High School in 1932 and attended Western Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky, and in 1947 he married his high school sweetheart, Katherine “Toddy” Barrickman.
Long public life
He then began a distinguished career in agriculture, first as the clerk at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Shelby County office. He served as chairman of the Kentucky USDA Committee and was appointed director of the Tobacco Division of the same agency.
In 1956, he was appointed associate administrator of that agency, and in 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him assistant secretary of agriculture in Washington, D.C.
In 1969 President Richard Nixon appointed him agriculture attachéto the American Embassy in Madrid, where he served until his retirement from government.
That, in 1976, finally moved him home to the family farm, which he operated with his great-nephews, Lowry and Lee Miller, until his gift to the parks system in 2007.
He also served as vice president of Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation and vice president of the Kentucky Fair Board during the construction of the Exposition Center/Freedom Hall.
Also, according to information supplied by Miller himself, he was possibly the longest registered Republican in Shelby County.
He is survived by numerous nieces and nephews.
Lowry Miller said he was talking with another nephew recently, reminiscing about their uncle.
“He and Aunt Toddy didn’t have any children; all of us nieces and nephews were his children,” he said, with a smile of fond remembrance. “He would scold you, but it was always in a loving way. He cared very much about his family.”
Friend of parks system
Clay Cottongim, director of Shelby County Parks and Recreation, said when Miller died, he lost a dear friend, as did the entire county.
“He has given so much to our parks system,” he said.
Cottongim said he always enjoyed talking to Miller and listening to stories he would tell about his life. He said he will never forget how enthusiastic Miller always was about all the parks, not just Red Orchard.
“One day after Shelby Trails Parks was donated to the parks system, he wanted to go out and see it, and I told him I would take him on a mule ride over the park, and he was ready to go,” Cottongim said. “He was under the belief that he was going to ride a real, four-legged mule, and when I opened the barn door, and backed out a motorized mule, you could see the disappointment, or maybe it was relief, in his eyes.
“He got a big laugh out of that.”
A person to look up to
Former state Sen. Gary Tapp called Miller a “world-class individual.”
“I’ve known Clarence for about thirty-five years, and he was a gentleman of the highest class,” he said. “You could always get good advice from him; he was a really good guy.”
Pat Hargadon with Kentucky Farm Bureau is another friend that calls Miller a “heck of a fellow,” and one of the founding fathers of the local farm bureau.
“He’s just one of those people that you can look up to,” he said, adding that he always enjoyed Miller’s great sense of humor.
Hargadon said he always would remember a conversation he had with Miller one night just a year or two ago, when he was taking him back home from a farm bureau meeting.
“I was walking him to the door, and I asked him what was the secret of his long life,” he recalled. “And he stopped and looked at me and said, ‘Well, you have to stay away from tobacco, alcohol and women.’
“And then when we started walking again, he said, ‘Of course, most people wouldn’t want to live that long.’”
Cottongim said he is touched that Miller’s last wish was to have his ashes scattered at Red Orchard Park and especially glad that Miller lived long enough to see his life-long home be transformed into the Miller Education Center, a great place to learn about nature on the farm that Miller loved so much.
“What better gift could he have afforded to Shelby County – a place to just enjoy the outdoors with your loved ones. Thank you, Clarence Miller.”