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He was born on November 20, 1918 in Bluffton, Ohio to Charles and Bertha Miller. The youngest of five children, he was their only boy.
Jim grew up in the small community of Bluffton, where he graduated from high school and entered Bluffton College at age 16. During his college years, he participated in a wide variety of activities and earned varsity letters in football and baseball each of his four years at the school. In 1939, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree and, years later - after distinguishing himself as a college student, businessman and community leader - he was inducted in 1982 into the Bluffton College Athletics Hall of Fame for “outstanding performances in football, baseball and for significant meritorious community services in Mission, Texas.”
Catching his eye during his first class on the first day of college was his future wife, Esther Ramseyer of Smithville, Ohio. They were married on June 1, 1941. Jim coached high school football in Ohio until he entered the U.S. Coast Guard as an Ensign shortly after the beginning of WW II. After the conclusion of the war in 1945, he was honorably discharged as a Senior Lieutenant.
In January 1946, Jim and Esther moved their young family to Mission, Texas, where he was hired by the Mission School District to be the head football coach for the Mission Eagles, a position he held until 1948. Jim remained a lifelong Eagles fan and many of his former players still refer to him as “Coach.” He left his coaching career to become the Business Manager of Valley Vocational Schools, a conglomeration of vocational schools for WW II veterans throughout the Valley. In 1952, Jim joined Tide Products in Edinburg, Texas, where he served as Vice President of Marketing for 30 years and helped build it into one of the largest agricultural chemical companies in the southern region of the United States.
Soon after arriving in the community, Jim and Esther joined the First United Methodist Church of Mission, where they served actively and faithfully for more than 65 years. He was a member of the choir, Sunday school, building committees and church governing bodies.
Always an educator at heart, Jim served 12 years on the Mission CISD Board of Trustees from 1951 until 1963. He was elected as the board’s president in 1956 and was also selected as president of the Rio Grande Valley Association of School Boards. In serving his community’s schools, he sincerely believed that he could help make a positive difference in the lives of Mission’s future citizens. During his tenure, he was instrumental in securing the site and developing plans for the present Mission High School and in ensuring effective administrative leadership for key positions in the district. Throughout his life, he continued to keep informed about what was happening in the Mission schools.
Jim was elected mayor of Mission in 1970 and served in that position until 1973. Ever the sports fan, one of his fondest memories of his tenure as mayor was serving as the master of ceremonies for the dedication of Mission’s Tom Landry Football Stadium and having the opportunity to spend time with the famous Dallas Cowboys coach.
An active member of the Mission Lions Club for more than 60 years, he was its president in 1951-52. He received some of the Lions’ highest awards, including the Lions Club Life Membership in recognition of outstanding service as a Lion. He was named a Texas Lions Foundation Fellow, honoring outstanding contributions to the foundation, and a Jack Welch Fellow, for dedicated service to the children of the Texas Lions Camp. He was also awarded the coveted title of Melvin Jones Fellow for dedicated humanitarian services in the Lions Club International Foundation.
His fellow citizens of Mission recognized his many civic contributions by selecting him as “Man of the Year” in 1951 and “Mr. Mission” in 1983. An “Appreciation Banquet” was held in his honor in 1990 and, in 2009, he and five others were honored at a dinner hosted by the Mission Historical Museum for their contributions to more than 30 years of Mission’s history. At the banquet, he was quoted as saying, “We were outsiders, and from day one, we have felt wanted, needed and loved - and we are so grateful.”
Jim is survived by his wife of 71 years, Esther, and their five children: Linda (Jack) Nickel of Spring, Texas; Dr. Jim (Terry) Miller of Mission; John (Susie) Miller of McAllen; Kathy (Jim) Bledsoe of Mission; and David (Julie) Miller of Houston.
He is also survived by his grandchildren, who were the joy of his life, Lisa (Jason) Chahin, Jim (Kristi) Nickel, Lee (Brett) Garner, Laurie (Justin) Shults, Amanda (John) Fleming, Greg Miller, Jeff (Lesley) Miller, Natalie (Grant) Mueller, Tara Connell (Vince Abrego), Tasha (Brent) Kaz, Laura (John) Ralbovsky, Lisa (Ross) McLaren, Allison Miller, Davis Miller and Meredith Miller; 23 great-grandchildren, whom he adored; and his dear sister, Christine Wenger of Plano, Texas.
He was preceded in death by his parents and three sisters, Kathleen Wenger, Margaret Brauen and Jane Baker.
The family wishes to recognize and extend sincerest thanks to Jim’s longtime and dedicated caregivers, Maria Dolores (Lolita) Mendoza, Elma Espinoza, Eva Espinoza, Francisca Bolin, Esmer Nunez and the entire staff of Beyamar Hospice.
Visitors will be received from 6:30 until 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 19, at Kreidler Funeral Home in McAllen. A memorial service will be held at the First United Methodist Church of Mission at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 20, followed by a private family graveside service at Valley Memorial Gardens. Pallbearers will be his grandsons with the husbands of his granddaughters serving as honorary pallbearers.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests gifts to the Memorial Fund of the First United Methodist Church of Mission, 1101 Doherty, Mission, TX 78572 or to the charity of your choice.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.