DELPHOS — For more than 30 years, Rick Miller has been known to most folks in the region as the voice of Delphos sports. But to people in Delphos, he’s just as well known as a guy who will do pretty much anything for a good cause.
Miller is one of eight finalists for the Jefferson Awards. He was nominated for his work with Up to the Challenge, a nonprofit that hosts a variety of activities for autistic children in Allen, Van Wert and Putnam counties. But his list of contributions to the community includes dozens of other boards, groups and events to which he lends his time and familiar voice.
“He’s out front in almost every community organization. He has a unique way of bringing people together, of making them feel welcome,” said the Rev. David Howell, Miler’s friend and pastor at Delphos’ Trinity United Methodist Church.
Miller’s volunteerism extends beyond Up to the Challenge. He has participated in the past eight Delphos Relay for Life events, volunteered with the Delphos Senior Citizens and serves as master of ceremonies for pretty much every public event that comes up, from Canal Days fundraisers to the annual Concerts in the Parks series. He does all; this while maintaining his health insurance consulting business and a steady schedule announcing high school sports on radio station WDOH.
It was that radio gig that stoked Miller’s volunteer habit. His wife, Lynn, is a social worker at Thomas Edison School, in Van Wert. Miller went with his wife to watch some of the school’s special needs students play basketball and realized they take just as much pride in the game as any of the other players he featured on the radio. So he went to his bosses and talked them into letting him broadcast a game between Thomas Edison and neighboring Brookhill Center. The advertising sales staff not only found him sponsors, but donated their commissions to the schools. By game day, Miller was hooked on doing good.
“It just felt so good. To see the smile on the player’s faces, to know we were able to do this, it’s hard to say it any other way, it feels good,” Miller said.
Over the years, Miller found new ways to use his local celebrity to help good causes. When he had a bout with ocular melanoma (a form of cancer on the eye) he turned it into an opportunity to educate listeners about the disease. He even had locals requesting their doctor give them the “Rick Miller Eye Test.”
“Two other people were diagnosed here with ocular melanoma because they went to the doctor because they heard about it on the radio,” Miller said.
Miller’s volunteer efforts range from the serious to the absurd. He has been known to don a Santa suit for charity parties and even a duck suit for a museum fundraiser. He’s even gone so far as to dress in drag for a fundraiser. Bidders tossed in an extra $300 to have his makeup applied by another local radio legend, Bob Ulm.
Ulm, it should be noted, is blind.
“Me in a miniskirt, is it something you want to see? No, but it raised a lot of money,” Miller said.
That willingness to lend both his time and considerable dignity to local causes is what prompted friend Esther Bielawski to nominate Miller for the award.
“I’ve known him for a long time, and he is always there, every cause, every civic or community event, he is volunteering his time and his effort,” Bielawski said. “We have a lot of good people here, but Rick is just an outstanding volunteer.”