In Memoriam: Charles D. "Chuck" Miller
Charles D. "Chuck" Miller, the ARS District 5 Director and for the last eight years the chief volunteer for the Eureka Chapter, died Jan. 7, 1999, at his home in Eureka, Calif. Chuck had celebrated his 70th birthday Dec. 7.
Chuck began his affair with rhododendrons and the ARS in the San Francisco Bay area, where he ran into Bob George during a plant sale for the De Anza Chapter. Bob talked Chuck into joining the chapter. He served De Anza as show chairman, as a director for five years, and as vice president. He twice was elected president of the chapter. It was during one of those terms that he "gently pushed" Diane and Bob Weissman into becoming show chairs for the chapter.
"Later, he was there to offer sage advice," Diane said, "when we became frustrated trying to organize an inherently unorganizable group of rhodaholics."
The Weissmans and the Millers became good friends, later touring Scotland together. Chuck was "Pops," a surrogate grandfather to the Weissmans' daughter, and spent long hours humming kindergarten songs during drives to remote English country gardens, Diane recalled.
The De Anza Chapter awarded Chuck his first Bronze Medal in 1990 for his service to the chapter.
Chuck and his wife, Dolores, moved to Eureka in 1990 following his retirement from Spectra Physics in Mountain View, where he worked on lasers. In Eureka, he quickly found a new career as friend and benefactor to members of Eureka Chapter. He logged hundreds of miles in his truck - and hundreds of hours - on behalf of the chapter.
Don Wallace, former president of the Eureka Chapter and a frequent companion on those plant-gathering trips in the truck, remembers the many times they would be examining a group of plants for one of the many plant sales. "I'd always ask Chuck, 'How many do you think we should get, six, eight, or ten?' And he'd always say, 'We'd better take them all!'"
Chuck helped with the annual truss shows and plant sales, worked on the KEET-TV landscape shows and served as co-chair of the 1993 Western Regional Conference. June Walsh, who co-chaired the '93 conference with Chuck, remembers meeting him and his friend the late Keith Elliott at the Oakland ARS Annual Convention. "They were a formidable pair at a plant sale," June recalled.
But it was Chuck's collection of friends June remembers most. "I once said to him that I thought he collected people first and rhododendrons second," June said. "Chuck just smiled." Among those friends was Dee Daneri, executive director of the ARS and a long time member of the Eureka Chapter. "Chuck genuinely enjoyed discovering new hybrids and companions for his rhody garden," Dee said. "More than that, he could hardly wait to see them appear in the gardens of his friends." He liked to share his garden with those friends, too. Glennda Couch-Carlberg of the Eureka Chapter recalled a "special memory of Chuck walking Tom and Maria Krenek, Carl and me through his own special haven - his garden - and sharing his great fondness of the plants growing there. Among the rhododendrons and conifers were heathers, too. Of course he sent us home with clippings."
Past ARS President Herb Spady said he wondered what made members of the Eureka Chapter so effective and "soon discovered that it was because of people like Chuck." Jean Minch was impressed with Chuck's enthusiasm for the district director's job, an enthusiasm he shared with Fred Minch, since both were elected at the same time.
As a relatively new member of the Eureka Chapter in 1990, I was talked into "helping" with the annual show and plant sale. I didn't know much but made it through that April show and then got talked into becoming show chair for the following year - and the next six. Chuck took me under his wing and taught me, in an ever-so-gentle way, what I needed to know. When I needed advice or help, it was to Chuck I turned. He was always there and he always knew what to do.
Chuck served on the board of Eureka Chapter until he was elected district director, and he held that job until a few days before his death. Despite his illness, he visited every chapter in the district, including one particularly arduous trip to Southern California and another to Hawaii. He resigned from the board only a few days before his death, and Alternate Director Jerry Fickes will serve the remainder of the term.
Eureka Chapter awarded Chuck his second Bronze Medal in 1998, honoring him for his years of steadfast service. He was also a member of the board of the Humboldt Botanical Gardens Foundation and committee member of the local public broadcasting station, KEET-TV, landscape show.
"His enthusiasm for rhododendrons and life was infectious, Herb Spady said. "Chuck was an idea man. Not only could he think of new ways of doing things, but he was an expeditor. Although he may have had disagreements with others, I never heard him put anyone down or belittle their ideas. In the end, he displayed tremendous courage. It is unfortunate that his influence on the Society level was so brief. He can live on, if we all follow his examples."