By Ivan Raconteur
In the fall of 1974, a new social studies teacher came to Lester Prairie High School. He was a native of Minneapolis, and his wife was from New York. They planned to stay “only a couple of years,” but ended up making Lester Prairie their home and becoming an integral part of the community.
Joe Miller and his wife, Pat, lived in Hutchinson during the first year he taught in Lester Prairie. By the following year, they had found a place in town.
Joe has literally been involved in the city from the ground up. During his early years in the city, he managed the city pool.
During the summers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he worked for the city maintenance department, and even ran the wastewater treatment plant for a year.
He taught students about government, and superintendent Art O’Neil told him he should lead by example, so he ran for mayor. The first time, in 1978, he lost by seven votes.
In 1980, he ran again in what may have been one of the city’s first actual political campaigns.
“I paid about $2 to print up fuzzy copies of a flier on the school’s thermal fax ditto machine, and the kids and I went door-to-door passing them out,” Joe said.
His “campaign” was successful, and he was elected to the first of his four terms as mayor.
During his tenure as mayor, the city built its wastewater treatment plant, and he is proud of the fact that the city was able to get 90 percent of the cost paid by the federal government.
Lester Prairie celebrated its centennial in 1986 while Joe was mayor.
“That was the last time I rode in a parade,” he said.
Also in 1986, Joe became a charter member of the Lester Prairie Lions Club, and since then he has been involved in countless activities sponsored by the group.
“If anyone thinks community service is not fun, they’re crazy,” he said.
Joe said he has had his share of fun working on projects from installing playground equipment or fences to flipping pancakes and frying sausages, and he has plenty of stories to prove it.
Being involved in these activities, he has enjoyed a sense of camaraderie and has developed ties with many people in the community.
“You get to know people by working together. You can talk about things differently when you are sweating together on a project than you can when you are sitting across the table. You won’t always agree, but at least you will come to an understanding,” Joe commented.
This ability to work with people has come in handy for a man who has been on both sides of the bargaining table, first as a negotiator for the teachers’ union, and, later, as the superintendent of the school district.
Participation in sports is another way Joe was connected to the community. For many years, he played softball on local teams. He has coached junior high football and been an assistant coach for senior high football. He also coached junior varsity and varsity softball.
He coached girls’ basketball for all of his 21 years as a teacher in Lester Prairie.
Joe has been involved in many things, but says he could not have accomplished what he has without Pat’s help.
“There’s no way I could have done all the things I have done without strong support from my wife,” he said.
He explained that he could not have devoted the time to coaching and community events if his wife had not taken care of things at home.
Sometimes, he said, Pat had things worse than he did.
“When you are the mayor, your wife is the one who gets all the calls,” Joe said.
“Many times callers were extremely belligerent when they spoke to my wife, but they were much more civil when I called them back,“ he said.
Among their other activities, Joe and Pat have been involved in the Lester Prairie Community Chest and the After Prom Party. They organized the Lions Halloween party for at least eight years.
Joe offered an observation about community service.
“If someone will just organize it, people will help. If you get the stuff there, people will help set it up and run things,” he said.
Both of the Millers’ children attended school in Lester Prairie.
Their daughter, Shannon Sinclair, is 33 and lives in Plymouth with her husband, Chris, and her son, Benjamin, 13 months, and step-daughter, Peyton, 4.
Shannon must have inherited some of her father’s love for sports. She was all-conference athlete nine times in various sports while a student in Lester Prairie.
Their son, Jason, is 30 and lives in New Hope.
Joe and Pat are members of the Holy Trinity parish. For the past two years, Pat has run the giving tree at Christmas.
They may soon move on to be closer to their grandchildren, but Joe said it has meant a lot to them to have the opportunity to be involved in the Lester Prairie community.
“It was a way for us to pay something back to the community for the good life our family has had here,” he said.