TERRE HAUTE —
A long-time champion of the environment, agriculture and recreation in Vigo County has been honored with a top award for his lifetime of service.
Max Miller was presented with the 2014 Paul Harris Community Service Award by the Rotary Club of Terre Haute on Tuesday in honor of his dedication to improving Vigo County’s parks, wetland and agricultural business.
The annual award recognizes a local person whose professional and volunteer work has brought recognition to Vigo County and symbolizes the Rotary International motto of “service above self.”
Jim Tanoos, chairman of the Rotary awards committee, said the nomination of Miller for the award was supported by many of the Rotary members at Tuesday’s weekly luncheon meeting at the Holiday Inn.
“Today’s recipient exemplifies the best of qualities,” Tanoos said of Miller, who served many years as the Purdue extension agent, as president of the Vigo County Park Board, was a founder of Leadership Terre Haute.
Miller is also known as a leader in Wabash River Development and Beautification Inc., also known as Riverscape, and has been instrumental in the establishment of the Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area, now under the management of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Vigo County Parks Department.
Brendan Kearns of the Healthy Rivers Initiative program for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources commended Miller for recognizing the beauty of the Wabash River and the local wetlands.
“He has been a steward in ensuring the wetlands are protected, providing healthy water to the river,” Kearns said in a statement read to Rotary members. “His efforts are instrumental in creating a healthy wildlife habitat, recreation area for residents and visitor to Vigo County, and adding to our community value. Max is a true asset to Vigo County, and a friend of the Wabash River.”
Keith Ruble, retired county park superintendent, said Miller was a major player in the development of the county park system, and in making it what it is today.
“He’s done a lot of things to be a benefit to the public,” Ruble said of Miller. “If he believes in something, and he knows he’s doing the right thing, he goes for it.”
Ruble called Miller an idea man who is able to visualize a project and delegate duties to the right people, then work behind the scenes to get the project done.
“He’s been a mentor for me in many ways,” said Ruble, who was hired to his job by park board president Miller. “He got Wabashiki started with Terre Haute Tomorrow when we talked about a park master plan and preserving the river bottoms. He realized it was an opportunity to capitalize on the wetlands, and people really jumped on board, and then the governor did, too, and we preserved thousands of acres along the Wabash River. It all started here in Terre Haute because of the efforts of that committee. Max and a lot of people worked together on that.”
Miller came to Vigo County in 1970 as the county extension agent, serving for 26 years in that capacity, and 36 years overall for the extension service.
Current extension agent Jim Luzar said he first met Miller in 1995 at a farm progress show, and Miller made a positive impression on him, even though Luzar was working in Putnam County at the time.
“He is synonymous with professionalism, and he is known for working in the community and with the community, and for his can-do attitude,” Luzar said. “He’s a very positive person and he brought a very professional image to the extension office.”
Miller helped lead the reorganization of the Vigo County Fair and to save it as an urban fair, not just a 4-H fair, the Rotary committee noted. He was one of the leaders of the Alliance for Growth and Progress, predecessor to the Terre Haute Economic Development Commission, and helped establish the county industrial park, according to Rotary members Fred Nation and Charlie Williams.
More recently, Miller has been involved in the development of the Terre Haute Children’s Museum, leading to its current location and spearheading the effort to have a permanent agricultural display there.
He was also a founder of TREES Inc., and led the effort to bring an urban forester to Terre Haute.
When Miller retired in 1996 from the county extension office, he was recognized with a Sagamore of the Wabash, the state’s highest award, presented by then-Gov. Evan Bayh.
But as Tanoos said, Miller did not really retire.
“He repurposed his life, helping to move Terre Haute and Vigo County forward,” Tanoos said.
Miller has helped with the construction of log cabins at the pioneer village at Fowler Park and recently for the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
“This is quite an honor,” Miller said after the lunch meeting. “And it’s a way of recognizing what’s being done with Riverscape and Wabashiki.”
Miller continues working on a trail system throughout the county, and hopes to make more of a connection across the Wabash River between Terre Haute and West Terre Haute.
“We want to make it more fluid with transportation and trails,” he said. “We’re unique to have urban areas on both sides of the river.”
Miller and his wife, Donna, have raised three daughters and have seven grandchildren, and they are active at Memorial United Methodist Church.
“Both are living examples of good citizenship who have brought recognition to our community through living their beliefs,” Tanoos said.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.