John L. Miller had an impulsive personality, especially when it came to feeding his family.
At different times, he ran funeral homes, ambulance services, a restaurant and a transportation business for people with disabilities. For a little excitement, he became the first full-time police chief of the Minnesota resort town of Breezy Point.
While he survived a couple of serious heart bypass surgeries during his life, Miller, 84, died of cancer Saturday after a short stay at Little Hospice in Edina.
“He was an interesting man,” said Pat Miller, his wife of 59 years. “He liked attention. If he wasn’t getting it, he would let you know.”
Miller, who last lived in Richfield, grew up in Brainerd. At 15, he worked the night shift for an ambulance company and funeral home, on at least one occasion picking up the bodies of friends who had died in car accidents.
He ended up attending the University of Minnesota to study mortuary science. After graduation, he thought of becoming a doctor or teacher, then started to pursue a career in his field. He borrowed $150 and bought a funeral home in Frazee, Minn., in 1958. A year later he married Pat, a registered nurse.
Miller sold the funeral home and moved to Brainerd in 1964, where he bought an ambulance service. That lasted for only a few years before he sold the business, ran a restaurant in Nisswa and started the first funeral home in Pequot Lakes. But, his wife joked, people weren’t dying quickly enough and they needed money.
That’s when he became the first full-time police chief of Breezy Point in the late 1960s. In fact, he was the only member of the police department.
“He thought it was a very exciting job,” said his wife. “That’s how he spent his nights.”
Breezy Point, which is part of the Brainerd Lakes area, incorporated in the early 1920s. The town was renamed Pelican Lakes, but went back to its original name in 1969.
Miller helped to modernize the tiny department, buying its first 120-watt squad radio for $785. Breezy Point has 2,463 residents and now employs six police officers.
Miller’s law enforcement career was short-lived. He sold his funeral home in 1974 and, in what his wife said was another impulsive choice, moved to Richfield and bought another ambulance service. He eventually got tired of dealing with competition from Hennepin County, so he started Contemporary Transportation for riders with disabilities.
“He had a really gentle way of working with the handicapped,” said his wife.
He tried to retire, playing golf and traveling to warm places. But he didn’t enjoy the idle life and started driving for various companies until health problems prevented him from working.
Late in life, Miller suffered from dementia, but his wife said he would still surprise friends and family with an excellent sense of humor.
Besides his wife, Miller is survived by sons Steven, of Minnetonka; David, of Champlin, and Dan, of Minneapolis; daughters Sandra Brinkmann, of Hamburg, Minn., and Jeanne Mrozek, of Burnsville; a brother, James, and a sister, Janet Burton, both of Brainerd.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Wooddale Church, 6630 Shady Oak Road, Eden Prairie, with visitation one hour before the service. Interment in Oak Hill Cemetery. Memorials to the church or Salvation Army. Arrangements by Morris Nilsen Funeral Chapel.