Miller puts ‘one foot in front of the other’ after retirement
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Retired Boone County teacher and coach Bill Miller has lived an extraordinary life — one that until April of 2017 had gone just as he and his wife, Joanie, had planned all along.
“Today, I’m not planning anything,” he said. “I wake up and I put one foot in front of the other.”
Miller, 65, was born in Raleigh County, West Virginia, in the town of Dorothy. He lived there with his family until he was in the sixth grade and the Millers moved down the road to Whitesville. He began attending Whitesville Junior High School.
He has an older brother named James, but everyone called him “Butch” while they were growing up. He was three years older.
Jesse and Freda Miller raised two active lads who, like many children of their generation, played outside and enjoyed sports.
“I stayed quite busy,” Miller said. “My brother and I were always outside. Baseball, basketball, you name it. When I came to Whitesville, I hadn’t seen much football. At Dorothy, we won two little league championships. At Whitesville, we won two more. My main concern in life was playing ball. I wanted to be a professional baseball player.”
Miller’s first day of football practice was one he’ll never forget.
“Back then, they issued your shoes as well,” he said. “No one knew me. I was really small. I was in the back of the line to get my equipment. They were handing out pads, helmets and other stuff. When it was my turn, they asked me for my shoe size. The coach went into the back and poked around and came back and said that he had my size but they were both for the left foot. I was so tickled that I told him I’d take them. I played my seventh-grade year with two left shoes.”
Miller joked, “You’d be behind bars if you gave that to a kid today.”
The student-athlete played three sports in high school. Baseball was his favorite and basketball was his least favorite. On the gridiron, he said he was undersized for his position.
“I was a big tight end, let me tell you,” he said. “Five-foot-7 and 135 pounds.”
Despite his slight size, Miller earned special honorable mention all-state in a time that the honor wasn’t broken into classes. Smaller schools were competing with larger schools for the honors.
The start of a beautiful story
It was in high school when he and his future wife, Joanie,
began dating. Miller said he was more than a little smitten with her.
“I suppose that I stalked her a little bit,” he said laughing. “I followed her around but never got up enough nerve to start a conversation with her.”
The young man finally gathered enough confidence to approach the girl of his dreams and she agreed to go on a date.
“She was the prettiest thing at Sherman High School,” he said. “When she agreed to go out, I was shocked. My junior year I had my first date with Joanie on a Saturday night. We went to the movie theater in Whitesville and from that time on, we dated. We went to prom together and continued to date all through college after we graduated in 1970. She went to University of Charleston and I went to Marshall.”
Joanie began her teaching career at Sherman High School and Bill took a job teaching sixth grade in Whitesville.
“I was there for five years and in 1980, I transferred to Sherman Junior High where I remained for 31 years until I retired.”
Miller said he saw many changes in education over his 36-year career.
“You had the opportunity to use the paddle, but the kids knew you had the power to use it and that was a deterrent,” he said. “The big change came when they took it out of our hands and then discipline got a little harder. After school, in-school detention and those things came into play. I can honestly say that I found it easier to figure out an appropriate discipline for a child when the parents didn’t get involved. That was when it became difficult for me. On the flip side, I’ve known some awfully good parents. I loved teaching and I loved the kids.”
In 1992, the Millers welcomed twin girls to their family. Nadia and Nevada were the pride of their mother and father.
“We were older parents. I was 40,” he said. “They completed our family. I’ve really enjoyed parenthood and I still do.”
When Miller came to Sherman Junior High, he coached ninth-grade football and basketball and was an assistant baseball coach at the high school. Miller took over the baseball program and the football program in 1988.
“I took over the baseball team, and then the football coaching position opened up and the kids were coming to my house campaigning for me to apply for it. I had no intention of doing that, but they really made a good case.”
Miller coached the baseball team to the 1990 Class AA State Championship game against Independence, where the Tide fell 7-4.
“We left too many runners on base,” he said. “That was the story of the game.”
Miller said it was the hardest-working group of kids he had ever coached in any sport.
“We had good kids and they worked hard,” he said. “I used to carry our gear around in an old white Subaru, and those boys would come to my house on every Sunday to get the equipment so they could go and practice on their own. That says a lot about that team.”
In 2008, Miller survived prostate cancer. He said it was something he’d never forget, particularly the outpouring of support from the community.
Bill and Joanie retired together in 2011 and their daughters decided to go to Coastal Carolina. Their parents decided to follow.
“We were sad to leave,” he said. “We had so many family and friends that meant so much to us. We decided to find part-time work to keep us busy. We definitely had a plan.”
Miller said one thing didn’t change for him when the family relocated to Myrtle Beach.
“I had to find a jgame to go and watch on Friday night,” he said. “It was what I knew for 36 years.”
Miller was able to reconnect with former Sherman teacher and football coach Gary Baldwin, who was the athletic director at North Brunswick High School in Leland, North Carolina.
Joanie worked in the financial aid office at Coastal and Bill worked at a local golf course. The couple found that the part-time work was good for them physically and they each enjoyed what they were doing.
On April 5, 2017, Bill Miller’s life would change and never be the same again.
“Joanie and I had just left the bank and were headed to Sam’s to shop,” he said. “We had just passed the police station and right after we passed the fire department, I saw a blur coming right at me. I tried to swerve and we were hit head on.”
Bill and Joanie were the only passengers in the car. A woman was driving the car that hit them.
“I don’t know, but I think it knocked me out because I was dazed,” he said. “When I came to, my whole chest was hurling. I saw (Joanie) there and I just kept screaming her name and she didn’t wake up. I just started yelling for help. Within seconds, (first responders) were at her door.”
Miller said he was extracted from the wreckage and put into an ambulance where he asked a paramedic the most important question of his life.
“I asked if my wife was OK,” he said. “That is when I found out that she didn’t make it.”
One foot in front of the other
Miller said that through it all, the reality and finality of the situation has left him in disbelief.
“To this day, it’s been like a nightmare that won’t end,” he said. “I expect her to walk through this door any day now. The whole time I was in the emergency room and the hospital, Td wake up and look for her.”
Among his injuries, the retired educator had suffered a shattered instep on his foot and three broken ribs. Months of rehab were ahead. Joanie’s 89-year-old mother, Serreda, suffers from dementia and lived in their home with them. She had to be cared for. Today, with the help of a care provider, she remains in his home.
Miller said law enforcement confirmed that the woman who had hit them had consumed opiates before she left her home and had made a stop at a methadone clinic that morning. She was driving on a suspended license. Miller said the officers at the scene of the accident came to see him in the hospital and were emotionally distraught.
Charges were filed against the driver. The case is active in the court system today, but the woman is free on a $20,000 bond, according to Miller.
“I want her behind bars for as long as I can legally do so,” Miller said. “My motivation comes from not wanting her to be able to do this to another family. In one fleeting moment, she took away a wife, a mother and a daughter. That lady had a choice. She made a bad choice. Now, she should suffer those consequences.”
Miller said it was friends and family, some who came from West Virginia to help, that ultimately gave him and his daughters strength. It was the kind of support he received while recovering from cancer nearly a decade ago.
“I don’t know how we’d have done it alone,” he said. “It amazes me. The goodness of people amazes me. I can’t thank them enough. My girls stepped up. They were adults already, but they really became adults. They’ve gained life perspective.”
Miller said he plans to continue his work at the golf course. He misses the mountains of West Virginia, but doesn’t miss the snow and cold weather. He misses dear friends and loved ones the most.
“I watch a lot of baseball. I watch my Reds, but they can’t seem to win many games right now,” he said. “I walk down to the beach like Joanie and I used to do. I see the other retired couples there enjoying their lives together. That is what we wanted. That is what we worked so hard for. Those moments are the hardest for me, taking those walks alone without her.”