Dale Miller is a walking tall tale in Florence.
“He’s the kind of man other men wish they were,” Miller’s friend John Swarm said.
It is universal truth in Florence that no one has ever spoken ill of Miller.
“That works the other way,” Auntie M’s server Rene Starkey said. “I never heard him say anything bad about anybody else.”
He has never smoked or drank alcohol in his life.
“My parents were strict,” Miller said. “I raised my kids the same way.”
He has never even received a speeding ticket. On his meals-on-wheels route he gingerly coasts into Marion doggishly obeying speed limit signs.
However, walking the straight and narrow is not what makes Miller special.
Every afternoon, he can be seen walking a two to three mile pattern in Florence carrying two garbage bags. One he uses to pick up aluminum cans. He donates the discarded aluminum to the Florence Christian Church. In the other bag, Miller places pieces of trash.
Miller is unwavering in his devotion to the route he inherited from Buster Huntley. Jeanie Meirowsky, who has known Miller as a peer with Florence Emergency Medical Services, said he is more reliable than the postal service.
“He does it in the rain, snow, and heat,” Meirowsky said.
When Miller brings the cans back to his modest house on Sixth Street, he pounds the aluminum into sheets with an orange hammer. He pulls off the tabs to submit to Ronald McDonald House in Wichita
Miller is the principal gardener of the Florence Walnut grove along the Cottonwood River. During the spring and summer months, he cuts weeds at the grove periodically. With two sections, including more than 20 trees each, weeding in between the tight confines of the 4-year-old trees is a monumental task.
He said he often waits until the weeds match his 5-foot-5 height before he chops them down with a hoe.
While picking up cans and cutting down weeds would be noteworthy tasks for any resident, Miller is 85 years old. He said his age keeps him from walking a five-mile can route.
On his route for meals-on-wheels in Florence, several homebound residents are younger than Miller.
Miller defers any attention by saying that Lenora Graham at 90 is an older meals-on-wheels delivery driver.
“Yeah, you just got out of diapers,” Pat Zogelman joked at Miller’s breakfast table at Auntie M’s Thursday.
Will Soyez was not swayed by Miller’s modesty.
“This guy will go out in 110-degree heat to weed,” Soyez said. “Yeah, he’s amazing.”
A couple weeks ago when mid-morning morning temperatures had reached 110 degrees, a farmer stopped working his field and stepped out of his combine to ask Miller what he was doing while he was weeding.
“I’m working up a sweat,” Miller replied.
“Do you know how hot it is?”
“It’s not that hot,” Miller said.
Unbeknownst to the farmer, Miller has not used air-conditioning for years.
Miller’s everyday work would be enough for him to claim the title of “most beloved man in town,” as Swarm said, but he is also the first to volunteer for Florence events.
Swarm said Miller helped him clear Scott O’Dell’s property during spring cleanup.
“He’ll soft pedal it,” Swarm said. “It cracks me up — here’s an 85-year-old man — he said every two or three hours I need a break.
“Yeah, Dale, me too.”
Miller was also part of the effort to create a Florence Community Garden. He hauled 5-gallon buckets of rocks to the river to dump.
“When you want somebody to do something, he’ll always be there,” Meirowsky said.
A slender man, Miller has always been surprisingly strong. Francis Meirowsky recalls lifting heavy sacks of feed at the Florence depot as a young man. As a younger man, Miller took it as a challenge. Miller defeated the larger man by lifting four bags, equaling a weight of about 200 pounds.
Also at the feed lot, Miller was known to wrestle larger farmers. In one instance, a man outweighed Miller by 100 pounds.
“I never wrestled anybody smaller than me. I didn’t want to hurt him,” Miller said, a comment which made Soyez chuckle.
One of the tasks Miller preformed when he was part of the Florence Fire Department was removing logs from the Cottonwood River. Bob Gayle worked with Miller when he was a city foreman and they have known each other since they were young.
“It’s a horrible day’s work,” Gayle said. “As a city foreman for a small town you do everything except deliver babies.”
Miller has delivered children as a part of Florence EMS. He worked with EMS from 1969 through 2008. He had even planned to renew his license at 83-years-old but decided against it.
Miller is a devote Christian and he was inspired by his mother to help people whenever possible, he said.
“If I can help anybody, I don’t get anything out of it; I don’t want anything out of it,” Miller said. “They’ve all been good to me. I feel like I should be good to them.”
But, he has also worked hard his entire life and does not know how to stop. Miller said he can only watch an hour of television at a time before getting antsy with the need to be active.
Miller has lived in Florence since he started an egg business in town in 1952. He would buy farmers’ eggs and cream and sell both to grocery stores. It was part of an egg business Miller operated his brother in Cottonwood Falls from 1947 to 2002.
Miller said he helped raise chickens in his youth, plucking chickens when he was 6 years old. He said he spent 75 years in the egg and poultry business.
Starkey has known Miller since she was a fourth-grader. She still affectionately calls him Eggy. He orders tea at the diner every morning. Eventually, as is the daily ritual, Starkey ends up giving Miller coffee, even though he claims to not drink it, pouring the black liquid into a mug adorned with a “rural rooster.”
“This should belong to one of our diners,” Starkey said when she picked out the cup.
With an ever-present front-toothless smile, which magnifies his sky blue eyes, Miller was center of attention at the diner Thursday.
In further thanks for his contributions to Florence, Miller was taken on a fishing trip with Soyez and Swarm through Sept. 2. They took Miller to Nestor Lake in Canada. The lake was one of Miller’s old haunts with a group of Florence fishing buddies.
“You’re the last of the Mohicans,” Zogelman said. “Now you’re corrupting a new bunch.”
Before leaving for the trip Friday, Miller was getting more and more excited about getting to fish in populous waters.
“I live to fish,” Miller said.
Soyez has been sternly told by many Florence residents to take care of Miller on the trip.
“I’ve had people nearly threaten me. ‘You better bring him back safe,’” Soyez said. “He’ll be taking care of us.”