Theodore Miller Jr.

Born: Wed., Mar. 13, 1929
Died: Mon., May 15, 2017


7:00 PM to 9:00 PM, Mon., May 22, 2017
2:00 PM to 4:00 PM, Tue., May 23, 2017
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM, Tue., May 23, 2017
Location: William D. Elkin Funeral Home

Funeral Mass

10:30 AM Wed., May 24, 2017
Location: St. Gregory Church

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Music by The Piano Brothers

On May 15, 2017, under the loving care of his daughters, legendary North East coach Theodore Miller, Jr., aged 88, passed away at home in North East following a courageous 13-month battle with cancer.  He was born March 13, 1929 in Erie, Pennsylvania, the only child of Catherine Sperry and Theodore Miller, Sr. His parents split up when he was a baby, and he spent his early years at the Erie Infants Home. At age five, he moved in with his great aunt and uncle, Marie and Richard Coughlin, who raised him with their older children Margaret and Harold at the Bridger Dairy Farm in Millcreek. In his early years, he was called Bobby and attended the Keepville one-room school house, Lakewood Elementary School, and St. Peter’s Grade School, where he served as an altar boy for Bishop John Mark Gannon.  During his years at St. Peter’s, he often stayed over week nights with his grandmother, Elizabeth Sperry, in Erie. While he was an only child, he enjoyed growing up with the Coughlins’ older children and shared close relationships with his Doehrel, Hain, Sperry, and Whyte cousins as well as his many Wolf Road friends.
He attended Millcreek High School, where he excelled in basketball and football; Gus Anderson was one of his coaches. He graduated in 1947 and joined the Marine Corps in February 1947, an anniversary he celebrated, recently marking 70 years.  In the Marine Corps, he was a sergeant stateside during the Korean War. After being honorably discharged, he enrolled at the University of Miami as a physical education major. While there, he played on the baseball team (and helped baseball Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx, who worked at the same supermarket he did, get a job as the Miami Hurricanes baseball coach). Eventually, due to an injury and recruitment by a sharp-eyed track coach, he made that life-changing switch to track and cross country, where he ran his favorite event, the half-mile, to a personal best of 1:51.  
He came home to Erie in the summers and lived with his aunt Imogene and uncle John Hain and their children. In 1957, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. One of his happiest memories from his education at Miami was a professor who prophetically called Miller “Coach.” At that time, he was still considering going back into the Marine Corps as an officer, but he liked the sound of that word “Coach,” and a seed was planted.
In the summer of 1956, he met his future wife, Eleanore Konieczna, at a nurses’ party back home in Erie, said he knew she was “the one” on first sight, and they were married on December 31, 1957 by his uncle, Father James Sperry at St. Joseph Orphanage Chapel. Over the next ten years, they became the proud and loving parents of seven children, five daughters and two sons.  
North East High School hired him to teach English in 1958, and he soon began making his mark as a coach, becoming an assistant track coach, starting the cross country program in 1961, and coaching the junior high school basketball team, which became the foundation of his successful varsity hoops teams once he was hired as varsity coach in 1963. That year, he switched from teaching English to physical education.
Over the years, his teams at North East achieved many lofty titles, including three state championships in track and field in 1962-64 (two with Bob Wall); four in girls’ cross country in 1982, ’83, ’87, and ’89 (with Jack Power); and two in boys’ cross country in 1971 and 2007 (the latter with Halli Reid) . Years later, he bought PIAA gold medals for the 1971, 1982, and 1983 champions (since medals weren’t given to team members then) and presented them to the runners at team reunions. He was Jack Powers’ assistant for the boys’ xc state wins in 1982, 1987, and 1988. He coached eight PIAA champion 3200 meter relay teams and a total of 26 individual state champions, including two two-time state champions in the mile/1600 fifty years apart: Bill Ramsdell in 1962-63 and Ryan Smathers in 2012-13. He also coached North East’s only individual state cross country champion, Roberta Razskowski, in 1987 and ’88.
In his three sports of cross country, basketball, and track, his teams won District championships 42 times. His basketball teams in 1968 and 1969 advanced to the western Pennsylvania finals.   In 1967-68, his teams were District Champions in all three sports of cross country, basketball, and track and field, perhaps the only time all seasons’ champions were led by one coach. He enjoyed longevity as a coach too; he did not “hang up his spikes” until age 84, a cross country assistant in 2013.
Two of his favorite roles as a coach were publicist and motivator. He took photos of his athletes and teams and posted them on school bulletin boards with names, stats, and challenges. In the local newspaper, he wrote articles without a byline, writing, “The coaching staff believes…”   He loved to motivate, copying inspiring quotations on poster boards or typing and printing and distributing lists of the quotes, many of which are still in the possession of those athletes.
He generously shared advice and encouragement with many coaches and athletes beyond Pickerland, serving as a volunteer coach at Harbor Creek High School in the mid-2000s, advising coaches and athletes from around the area, and sending workouts and inspiration to former athletes at college.  
Miller received multiple honors over the years, starting in 1970 when the town of North East had a Ted Miller Day banquet; in 1989, the North East Exchange Club inducted him to the Book of Golden Deeds; the North East Community Foundation honored him with the Lake & Smith Award for Community Service in 2013.  He was inducted into three Halls of Fame: The Erie Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame (1996), the Pennsylvania Track and Field Hall of Fame (2010), and was a member of the first class of the North East Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. In addition, the North East athletic field was named after him in 1994. Another unofficial award came in 2008, when the community came together to paint his house.  
After retiring from teaching in 1989, he involved himself in the Marine Corps League Lake Erie Detachment, where he took on leadership roles and won three Citizenship awards, the Chapel of Four Chaplains Award, and Tenure Awards for 25+ years of dedicated service.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 59 years, Eleanore in January, and they endured the loss of three of their children, sons Michael (2010) and Patrick (1993) and daughter Colleen Miller Pagan (1998).  He was also preceded in death by a half-sister, Patty Miller Pex of Anchorage, Alaska.
He is survived by four daughters, Michelle Miller, Ph.D., of Akron, Ohio; Maureen Miller of Garden City, Kansas, who was his primary caregiver of the last year; Cathleen (Brian) Diehl of Evans, Georgia; and Kelly (Greg) Trulock of Orlando, Florida. Also, he leaves his daughter-in-law Kristin Mattern Miller of Ligonier and son-in-law Rafael Pagan of Orlando, Florida.  He is survived by 13 grandchildren, Katie (Javier) Hernandez, Patty (David) Wheet, Megan and  Jordan Yardley; McKaylie, Kealan, Eamon, and Quinnlyn Diehl and Kelcey (Brode) Pickens; Bradley Pagan; Andy, Colin, and Gwen Trulock; four great-grandchildren, Rhys and Conor Wheet and Aubree and Baylor Pickens; and three step-grandchildren, Alex Fanfassian, Christopher Spinelli, and Brianna (Young) Hook, and three step-great grandchildren, Arianna and Kiara Wheet and Matthew Hernandez.
Miller also leaves his brother-in-law, Al (Audrey) Konieczny of Fairview and his sister-in-law, Nancy (Donald) Grotkowski of Erie, and Ruth St. George of Flourtown, Pa., his wife’s cousin who grew up with her.  He is also survived by two half-brothers, David (Phyllis) Miller of Waterford and Jimmy Miller of Salem, Connecticut, and a half-sister, Judy Miller of Anchorage, Alaska, four nephews, and many cousins.  Further, he leaves to honor his memory countless former athletes and students of the last 60 years.
Since his cancer diagnosis 13 months ago, he determined to make the most of his days, touring the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia; attending concerts, festivals, and plays; visiting Freeport Beach and Presque Isle; making ice cream runs; eating pancakes at numerous area restaurants; comforting his family through the passing of his wife Eleanore in January;  taking walks around downtown North East with his cane and his Fitbit; and rooting on his beloved Miami Hurricanes, Boston Celtics, San Francisco Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and North Carolina Tarheels.  He enjoyed travel, attending running-related lectures and sports camps, and exploring his Irish heritage.  Most of all, he relished many visits with all the wonderful former athletes, students, colleagues, family members, and friends that meant so much to him over these many years.
He belonged to St. Gregory’s Thaumaturgus Catholic Church, the North East Athletics Hall of Fame committee, the American Legion, and the Marine Corps League.
The family would like to express their heartfelt thanks to the Community Nursing Services of North East, who provided kindly care over this last year.  
Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Elkin Funeral Home, 65 S. Lake St., North East. Calling hours will take place on Monday, May 22 from 7-9 p.m. and Tuesday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. A prayer service will be held there on Wednesday at 10 a.m. with a funeral Mass to follow at St. Gregory’s Catholic Church at 10:30. Interment will be at St. Gregory’s Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to a Ted Miller Scholarship, which is being organized, and donations may be forwarded through the Elkins Funeral Home.

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Roy Stanford
   Posted Sat May 20, 2017
Winning is the combination of design and desire, always do the little things to perfection.

David C. Triana, P.E.
   Posted Mon May 22, 2017
Coach Ted Miller possessed the heart and soul of a champion. It was this he labored to instill in the students and athletes of North East. He welcomed all and said there were no try outs or cuts for his teams. His training regime and work-out techniques took care of that. Those who had the benefit of his time and talents were better for the experience for a lifetime. Under Coach’s guidance and Thundering Velvet Hand I had the privilege of being All County in Cross Country and Track my Senior year. I’m most grateful for his gift of self-confidence and tenacity which served well in my college education, as a pilot candidate in the USAF and in a 35+ year career in the US energy industry. As much for the support of my family, I owe in equal measure a debt of gratitude to Coach Miller.

Thank you to his family for having shared him with all of us.

Good night, God Bless and safe home to you Coach!

David C. Triana, P.E.
NEHS Class of 1971

Bryan Casciere
   Posted Mon May 22, 2017
Coach always tried to bring out the best in you. I'll never forgot you for pushing me to achieve my best. You'll be missed by all you touched.
Rest in piece.

   Posted Tue May 23, 2017
My sincere condolences to Coach Miller's family.

I'm one of hundreds of lucky athletes fortunate enough

I am very happy Coach can now be with his wife and three children in heaven. But, am very sad we cannot see or speak directly with him again. He was among the best men I've ever been lucky enough to know. I was always anxious to see him at meets and respected him immensely. He's affected my life and coaching style profoundly. He was and is a truly special man.

I miss you Coach.

The Lander Family
   Posted Wed May 31, 2017
Miller Family,
We can't imagine losing both parents so close together. It's so hard to say, "I don't have a Mom or Dad (living) anymore." But it is very comforting to know, that they are finally together once again. Hold onto all those wonderful memories - they will help you heal!

Image: Simon Howden /

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