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Obituary of Joseph Alexander Miller
God must have smiled on September 08, 1956 when he sent Joseph Alexander Miller to the little prairie town of Las Animas, Colorado… without a warning label. Of course, it didn’t take his family very long to realize “Joey” was “a live wire.” The third of Jim and JoAnne Miller’s eight children, Joey was always up to or into something, and he had plenty of accomplices. Like the time when his parents were away, and he and his siblings decided the farm animals needed a tour inside the house, so they staged a “pet parade.” Or later when, as a teenager, he and his brother Jay decided a neighboring hog farmer wouldn’t miss just one animal that they could use for a late-night pig roast. Turns out, when they locked it in the trunk, the animal wasn’t quite dead…
At school, he was just as ornery. Inspired by the likes of Hogan’s Heroes, he staged a kindergarten jail break from the school he dubbed “Rixey Prison” by digging under the fence and escaping across the road into a nearby field. On another occasion, when his grandmother was his teacher, he took advantage of a fire drill by dropping and shattering his glass milk bottle “out of fear,” and encouraging his friends to do the same, before exiting the building. But, Grandma Martin was not outmatched, and Joey “learned his lesson.”
His energies weren’t just spent on shenanigans though. He also played football and ran track. He played basketball… for a week… until the coach strongly and wisely redirected him. He loved wrestling, and he was a strong contender, but his favorite story was of when, as a freshman, he faced a three-time state champion four times in one season. In the first match, he endured the three grueling rounds without scoring a single point. When his coach offered condolences, he countered, “I didn’t get pinned!” The next match, he held on again until the clock ran out. This time he walked off saying, “I got one point!” His point total increased by one per match, and he never got pinned. That was Joey – indomitable.
A passion for agriculture ran thick in his blood. In 4-H he showed sheep, pigs, and calves and sewed shirts, pants, and a sports jacket. In FFA, he built a stock trailer. But his Pony Express run was one of his proudest accomplishments. Since the 1930’s, Las Animas high school student council has sponsored Santa Fe Trail Days, a local holiday celebrating their western heritage. In 1970, to increase community involvement, they introduced a new event—the Pony Express Run. In honor of the early western mail deliveries, riders would start in La Junta, switch horses at three different posts as they crossed 20 miles of sand dunes and prairie, and end in Las Animas.
Joey begged his dad to let him compete, but the answer was always, “No;” that is, until the day before the race. Jim, Joey’s dad, stopped by the grain elevator. The farmers were shaking their heads about the sad truth that the only two competitors were out-of-towners—professional riders. No local man, they said, had the guts to run. Here’s where memories diverge a bit. JoAnne, Joey’s mom, says her husband encouraged his son to accept the challenge. Joey always said his dad placed a bet on him. Either way, it was a dare, and Joey never backed down from a dare.
The family had two horses. His dad wrangled up two more and positioned all four at their posts. At the starting line the next morning, beside two professional riders, thirteen-year-old Joey had never mounted two of his four horses. Nonetheless, when the gun fired, Joey took off without hesitation.
Being the first year of the race, the route wasn’t clearly marked, and gates weren’t left open. Somewhere along the way, the riders had to cross a fence. One man couldn’t get his horse to jump, so Joey dismounted and held down the fence. If you knew Joey, that doesn’t surprise you. The other rider, however, did not return the favor. That ticked Joey off! Again, if you knew him, that doesn’t surprise you. Maybe you can even hear him say, “Dadgumit!” Or possibly something a bit stronger. Either way, with gritted teeth and fire in his belly, Joey leapt back on, jumped the fence, and ran. One hour and 20 minutes after the starter gun fired, Joey and his horse galloped across the finish line, winning first place, 5 and 11 minutes before the two professionals. And, maybe even more surprising than the win, we found a newspaper article backing up the more unbelievable details of Joey’s story. Turns out this fish tale didn’t just keep getting bigger. (Except maybe the part about the bet.) Indomitable.
The summer before his senior year, Joey climbed on a bus headed to Washington, D.C. with his 4-H Club. He always loved an adventure, a penchant he got from his family, but he had no idea that this adventure would change his life forever. His club joined up with another from the tiny, northern Colorado town of Briggsdale, and he laid eyes for the first time on a high school girl named Joyce Baumgartner.
In the fall of 1975, somewhere on the dirt roads between Las Animas and Sterling, Joey lost the “y”, and Joe arrived at Northeastern Junior College. He had plenty of shake-your-head college stories, but one he loved to tell his grandkids was of a massive snowstorm that buried all the buildings on campus. He and several friends dug their way out, climbed atop the drifts, and headed to free the next most important people: the girls and the cooks. Throughout his whole life, those priorities remained consistent.
Joyce joined him at NJC in the fall of 1976. Two years later, at ages 21 and 19, they married in June at Hillside Baptist Church. The following June, he whole-heartedly embraced his favorite role in life: Dad. His daughter Joy was born in 1979 and his son Jerad in 1981. Along with his family, Joe’s faith also continued to grow. In between the births of his two children, in 1980, he publicly proclaimed his faith in Jesus Christ through baptism at Eaton Church. Aligning his life with his beliefs meant some changes. One key moment came while he was driving home late one night. He found himself scrounging through his ashtray to find a cigarette butt with enough life left to light. When he realized what he was doing and the slavery it represented, he rolled down his window, dumped the ashes, and surrendered his addictions to Christ. By God’s grace, other than cigars celebrating babies and single shots honoring weddings, he never drank or smoked again.
In 1982, Joe and Joyce bought a house in the little town of Kersey. Joe worked several, varied agricultural jobs while Joyce taught in preschools and finished her teaching degree. In 1987, Joyce got her first elementary teaching job in New Raymer. Feeling like they were stepping into a Little House on the Prairie novel, they moved out to a little, rented farm, which Joe loved. He immediately bought a couple of meat cows. Knowing his daughter, in particular, had a soft spot for furry friends, he named the cows Hamburger and Steak.
The family returned to their home in Kersey in 1988, and Joe went to work for his father-in-law, Milton, on the family farm in Briggsdale. Joe had the utmost respect for Milton and learned much from him. Sadly, Milton succumbed to stomach cancer in February of 1990. His death left the family reeling. Within a few years, Joe and Joyce divorced, and Joe moved to a rental farm outside of Briggsdale.
Despite the turmoil, Joe’s devotion to his kids never wavered. In the everydayness of life, he showed his love by making every sporting event, sharing Wednesday night pizza dinners, moving into the guest bedroom with Jerad every other weekend, and giving Joy his own bed.
On one cataclysmic night, he showed his love at the expense of his livelihood. He had a herd of around 30 calf/cow pairs including one pair each that had been given to Joy and Jerad by his dad, Jim. Joy and Jerad were with him that weekend when he went out to check his cows only to discover that they were dying of nitrate poisoning from bad hay. One by one, he saw them fall. When the veterinarian arrived, he rushed to the sickest cows, but Joe demanded that he treat Joy’s and Jerad’s cows first. The vet resisted, but his professional opinion was no match for Joe’s resolute love. That night Joe’s children got to watch firsthand what it looks like for a man to lose all his possessions and still hold tight to what matters – faith and family.
Along with his devoted love, Joe stood firm as a spiritual leader for his children. In 1994, Joe walked through the doors of Bethel Baptist Church. Before he made it all the way through the foyer, he heard the music playing, and God told him he was home. For the next 29 years of Sundays, including his last full day on Earth, you could find him in Sunday school, church, or church nursery, and he took Joy and Jerad with him every chance he got. He also gave to God half of his time with them every Wednesday, so they could go to youth group. As they grew up, graduated, and started their own adult lives, they continued to look to his love and leadership as their guide.
Joe’s faithfulness took on new life when he embraced his second favorite role: Pappy. Joe’s first grandchild, True, surprised everyone by arriving on January 1, 2000, three months before his due date. As soon as Jerad and True’s mom, Becky, let him, Joe scooped up True, and away they went to church and Sunday lunch with Joy and her husband, Jeff. Sunday school, church, Sunday family lunch, Broncos games, youth group—those were beautiful, weekly rhythms for decades of Joe’s life.
Along with his beloved grandson, four precious granddaughters—Lizzy, Siree, Abby, and Nealy—filled Pappy’s heart. With his family, Pappy lived life abundantly— fishing trips, family vacations, school grandparent days, horseback riding, birthdays, Briggsdale school lunches, hunting trips, sporting events, holidays, youth group trips—Pappy didn’t want to miss any of it. That’s why on his last vacation, a trip with his girls to Grandma Joyce’s house in Florida, he swam-chased a manatee, collapsed a beach chair, dug weeds out of a river, and swept a roof with a broom. Pappy was simply a part of life, like the air you don’t know you’re breathing.
And Joe’s community and influence kept extending. With the Shellers, he shoveled grain, gave away Gideon Bibles, got haircuts. With the Briggsdale Fire Department, he sacrificed sleep and served others. For Dayspring Christian Academy, University High School, and Union Colony, he drove bus in a way that made him more of a friend than a driver. For Kristy Anne, he was an adopted Pappy. For Bethel’s youth and in the nursery, he was a rough-and-tumble second Pappy. On the mission field, he was an all-around, trustworthy, humble handyman. For Briggsdale School, he did indoor maintenance. And outdoor maintenance. And bus driving. And set building. And field painting. And chair set up. He cheered loudly at games and coached character quietly on sidelines.
None of these descriptions encapsulate what these relationships actually meant to him or to his loved ones. That’s the problem with obituaries—they can’t capture a life well lived.
So, who was Joe Miller? Two simple words: ready and yes. Through his faith in Christ, Joe was ready—for adventure and love, for hardship and hard work, for service and forgiveness, and even for death. In all of life, he said yes—to God and to each of us. He is our example, and we are his legacy. Ready and Yes.
Follow me, as I follow Christ. ~1 Corinthians 11:1
Joseph Alexander Miller (September 08, 1956 – March 06, 2023) is preceded in death by his sister Kathy and his father, Jim. He is survived by his children, Joy (Jeff) Casey and Jerad Miller, and their mother Joyce Baumgartner along with five grandchildren, True, Lizzy, Siree, Abby, and Nealy, his mother, JoAnne Miller, and siblings, Jim, Jay, Karen, Robert, Jack, and Jason. They are joined in love and grief by a boisterous and beautiful extended family as well as so many precious friends.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Joseph Miller, please visit Tribute Store