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Moments in Time: Tom Miller
Tom Miller (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - Tom Miller had never heard of Monroe before he visited the city but says he could see that it would be a good place to bring his young family. Since then, he's been working in the area as well as taking part in the community, helping to make it a place where people still hope to come, enjoy and stay.

He grew up in a small farming town in North Dakota. His family lived in town, but he had six sets of aunts and uncles living on farms within 25 miles of him, and he says he enjoyed both town and country living while he was young. He recalls often being on his bike and visiting relatives.

In high school, Miller loved sports and earned MVP awards for both football and wrestling. He worked often, he said, at a local grocery store and did some shoveling and mowing for neighbors. In the summertime, he found himself working for five farmers. One summer, he hand-sorted more than 100 stacks of hay. That, as well as picking up rocks, was back-breaking, hot work, that helped teach him early on the value of a dollar.

He graduated from Edgeley High School in 1972 and decided to attend a trade school, a place where he could wrestle. But shortly after starting, he decided school wasn't for him, and he began working. He was doing carpentry work at a lumber yard in North Dakota when one afternoon, in the middle of a snowstorm, he and his brother packed their car and moved to Texas, where another brother lived.

"We wanted to get out of the cold," he said, smiling.

When he got there, he landed a job working as a deck hand on riverboats. The boats would go from Cincinnati to Panama City, hauling 100,000 barrels of jet fuel diesel. It was a fun experience, he recalls, but the hours were brutal.

After about a year-and-a-half, he moved on to a manufacturing plant, where he met the woman who would become his wife, Mary. Two years later, after they were married, they both went back to school.

"I didn't want to be at a job like that all my life," he said. "I wanted more than that."

He earned a two-year degree in air conditioning and refrigeration before enrolling at the University of Texas, where he eventually earned his degree in industrial engineering technology. He graduated in 1982.

Soon after graduation, the bottom fell out of the petroleum industry, and he lived in an area with a 25 percent unemployment rate. After working so hard for his college degree, he was forced to take work as a third-shift maintenance tool room attendant in a foundry.

After seven years there, he started in the industrial engineering department as a supervisor.

"I knew I'd work my way up eventually," he said.

From there, Miller moved to another manufacturing plant, enjoying the work immensely.

"Manufacturing is very interesting," he said. "You can see things happening."

He and Mary had two children by then and lived in Baytown, Texas. His wife earned her degree in finance, and after looking around, Miller landed a job at the foundry in Browntown. He says he got the call after sending his resume a year before to an employment agency in St. Louis.

He had never heard of Browntown or Monroe.

"They called me out of the blue," he said. "I came up and checked it out."

He says he and Mary wanted to get out of Texas, hoping for a better environment for their children. Although it was a rainy day when he came, he says he could see how it would be good for his young family.

The position was a growing experience for him, he said. He started as an industrial engineer but moved to sales administration manager and then to other positions.

After six years, he moved to a foundry in South Beloit for a similar role, but the plant closed two years later.

He returned to the Browntown foundry briefly for special projects, but recently began working at Industrial Combustion in Monroe. He enjoys the job.

Monroe was a good place for his two boys, Paul and Mark, to grow up. They're now grown, but when Paul was in middle school, he asked if his father would attend a meeting to help get a skate park in town up and running. That meeting changed Miller's direction and put him on the map. After 10 years of planning, support, grant writing and fundraising, he did bring the skate park to Monroe.

Miller says he was proud when the skate park came to fruition in 2006. It was the year his youngest son graduated from high school, so it was too late for his own children, but it was still important for others.

"I still can't believe we have that big skate park in Monroe," he said.

Miller is still part of coordinating a skate park clinic with the Parks and Recreation Department, offering lessons and safety tips for those interested.

"I'm proud of the skaters and of Park and Rec for taking such good care of it," Miller said.

It also opened his eyes to other community issues and events, and he decided to take an active interest.

During the project, Miller began working closely with the Main Street program and quickly became involved with other projects. He has played a big role with Maxwell Street Days, concession stands at almost every event and Battle of the Bands. He was a big part of getting open containers allowed on the Square.

When his boys were younger, he coached little league and flag football teams through Parks and Rec and the YMCA. When his sons were in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, Miller served as an assistant scout master with Troop 101 and was a merit badge instructor. He still gets together with other assistant scout masters monthly on the Square.

He has served as the co-chair of the Christmas Parade for more than six years and also served on the Main Street Promotions Committee. He was part of the Monroe Public Library welcoming Santa and helped organize the Farmers Market as well. For the past two years, he's served on the Main Street Board, after serving on the promotions committee for several years. Five years ago, he began serving on the city council.

"With all Main Street has brought in, I want to see more stuff like that happen and get that done," he said. "I can help with that."

Miller says he hopes Monroe will keep growing and keep offering new things to keep people in town. Four years ago, Miller was awarded Volunteer of the Year at the state annual banquet and also given an honorary board member recognition for his involvement.

He is most definitely someone who likes to be busy, he said, and his ultimate goal is to make Monroe's downtown a destination.

"I could see the joy the kids got out of that skate park," he said. "We need more."

Two years ago, he took part in Green County Leaders, where his group took on the Monroe Farmers Market, earning it a $150,000 USDA grant to promote the program. He still serves on the Farmers Market subcommittee of the Main Street Promotion Committee.

Although he doesn't have a lot of free time at home, Miller says he's looking forward to that time coming eventually. He enjoys working on computers, yard work and hopes someday to do more woodworking. He enjoys helping elderly people in his neighborhood as well.

He and Mary enjoy traveling and go back every couple of years to Edgeley where he still has several extended family members. They also go to California to see their son in college and someday would like to visit every state. They are enjoying being empty nesters, and Mary is often helping him with his community projects behind the scenes, he said.

After never having heard of Monroe, he says it's been a great home for them and a great place to raise their children.

"I'd like to make it more adaptable so we can retain more people," he said.

He lives by something former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has on his email signature - and something he's seen come full circle through his years of volunteering and serving his community:

"Everyone can find a reason why not to do it, let's all work together to find a way to do it," he said.