The 61-year-old chief of the Osolo Township Fire Department died Friday, May 23, after a brief battle with cancer.
“Jerry was a friend to everyone, and I would say that if you could roll up best friend and brother and mentor and father figure into one word, that word would describe Jerry,” said Joe Johnston, an Osolo Township firefighter who works at Billings.
Firefighting runs in the Miller family.
Jerry Miller first became a firefighter in 1970 at 18 and served under his father, captain Harvey “Junior” Miller, who was one of the founding members of the Osolo Township Fire Department. Jerry Miller’s brother, Jim Miller, would also later serve as a chief of the fire department.
Jerry Miller’s son and nephew, Mitch and Mark Miller, also serve at the Osolo Township Fire Department.
“There’s always going to be a Miller on the Osolo fire department,” Johnston said.
Jerry Miller married his wife, Nancy L. (Eppert) Dunfee on May 24, 1997, in Townsend, Tenn. He would frequently take her back to Tennessee for the first few years. Nancy said he would do anything for her.
The couple would have celebrated their 17th anniversary the day after Jerry Miller died.
“He just spoiled me,” Nancy Miller said. “I get anything I want. I have just never been treated like that before.”
Nancy Miller said Jerry Miller would also do anything for the Osolo Township Fire Department and the community he served.
“He was a wonderful fire chief. His boys absolutely adored him,” Nancy Miller said. “That’s why every election, they voted him in … He made sure they had the things they needed.”
That meant getting the fire department the best equipment and the best-trained firefighters, according to fire department.
“He wasn’t the type to settle for ‘this’ll do,’” Johnston said. “I hope his proactive legacy lives on in the department.”
Jerry Miller also gave the same attention to the people he served in the Osolo Township community.
“On Thanksgiving, he would take a turkey around to the neighborhoods that needed them,” Nancy Miller said. “He was not a selfish man. He was so proud to help others.”
He also helped erect a 9/11 steel beam memorial on the department’s west lawn and acquire special funds to increase the number of paid firefighters on staff.
One of his more sympathetic contributions to the Osolo Fire Department was the tradition of a firefighter’s funeral, said Nancy Miller. In a final gesture of gratitude, a firefighter is taken to his final resting place on the back of a fire truck.
“The funeral would be so beautiful for the deceased,” she said. “It’s honorable for the deceased.”
Twelve fire departments, including Goshen and Elkhart cities, will come together Thursday, May 29, to help render firefighter’s honors for Jerry Miller at his funeral service, Johnston said.
Nancy Miller said they’re going to take him from the station to the grave on the back an Osolo Fire Department fire truck in the same gesture of gratitude he made for firefighters before him.
A patriot guard of more than 60 motorcycles will also be in attendance.
The Cleveland Township’s Fire Department will cover Osolo Township’s calls for service so Osolo Township firefighters can attend the service.
“It’s not just our gig,” Johnston said. “Everybody’s coming together to help honor Chief Miller.”
“He’s well-known everywhere and well-loved. That’s the kind of person he is,” Nancy Miller said.
Dean Rentfrow, assistant chief, is now acting chief. He will become the Osolo Township Fire Department chief sometime after the funeral.
Johnston said that Rentfrow is “well on his way to carrying on the Miller legacy for the people of Osolo Township.”
Jerry Miller is survived by his seven children, 20 grandchildren and one great-grandchild who is on the way.
“He was the greatest husband. He’s just wonderful,” Nancy Miller said. “I’m going to miss him so much.”
Emily Pfund contributed to this story.