Jeff Miller had never heard of New Port Richey before August 1980, when he answered an ad in a broadcast magazine. The old WGUL radio station needed a technician. Miller needed to get out of the West Virginia cold.
Three decades later, he has earned a reputation for his extraordinary efforts to preserve the history of his adopted hometown and the surrounding areas. Here's the irony: Miller is a computer geek. He lives in the world of Facebook and Flickr and YouTube. His expertise with such modern tools has enabled us to peer into a glowing screen and witness the effects of the 1921 hurricane or the dedication of the Hacienda Hotel in 1926 or hundreds of other photos, maps and stories that chronicle the evolution of our community.
When he started posting historical photos on the Web in late 1999, Miller never expected that someday he would preside over such an important resource. It was just a hobby. His real job was teaching math at Gulf High School.
But the website he created, www.fivay.org, is now bookmarked by anyone in Pasco who cares about the county's heritage — including a roomful of folks at the New Port Richey Rotary Club meeting Wednesday afternoon at Spartan Manor.
Miller thought he was there to give another slide show, to narrate photos preserved by the West Pasco Historical Society. He even brought along a 3-minute, 8 mm film from the 1968 Chasco Fiesta parade through downtown New Port Richey.
The Rotarians loved it. Many of them grew up here. They remember the simple days before U.S. 19. Not long ago, they celebrated the club's 50th anniversary.
So to them, fivay.org is a treasure chest, one they pick through often. They appreciate how much effort it takes to research, copy and reproduce history — accurately. They appreciate Jeff Miller.
After he finished his presentation and started to pack up his laptop, Rotary president Don Cadle announced some unfinished business. He called Pasco-Hernando Community College president Kathy Johnson to the podium and caught Miller off-guard. Four anonymous donors had been so taken by Miller's community service that they pledged $5,000 toward a scholarship at the college in his name. The Rotary Club decided to match that amount. And if the state matches that in an endowment through the college foundation, $20,000 will be available to students in Miller's name.
"I'm shocked,'' he said.
It was nice to see this quiet, humble man get due recognition. I've worked with him a few times and saw the same kind of meticulous resolve that you'll find in the best reporters. In 2008, he dug through old newspaper and state records to confirm that Sheldon Nicks had been a law enforcement officer when he was shot and killed in what is now the Hudson area in 1909. Mainly because of Miller's research, Nicks' name is now on the memorials that honor fallen officers and his grave in Brooksville, left unattended for most of those 99 years, is now regularly maintained.
Miller is proud of his website, but not satisfied. He is working to expand its relevance throughout Pasco, and recently posted 267 old photographs from the collection of Helen Eck Sparkman, who graduated from Pasco High School in Dade City in 1913. Miller has also posted a transcript of her talk to the Pasco County Historical Society in 1977. He plans to address that Dade City group next week.
His hobby has become extremely time-consuming, but Miller at age 60 still manages to teach honors courses at Gulf High in geometry, algebra II and precalculus. He has been at the school (Room 213) since 1995 and was teacher of the year in 2004. He is also the reason Gulf High boasts one of the best school websites you'll ever see, complete with podcasts from the principal and links to videos he shoots himself.
Miller plans to teach at least another five years, good news for Gulf. Now, because of generous folks who admire what he has done for this community, some of his students might benefit from a scholarship in his honor.
Good for you, Jeff Miller.