Jim Miller: A hobby of helping out

Harvard High volunteer picks up a hammer, gets to work

If there’s ever a day when Jim Miller isn’t at Harvard High School with a hammer or a drill in his hand working on a musical set or building band equipment, band director Korey Coffer will hear students ask, “Where’s Jim?”

In fact, when Miller started volunteering his time as the fine arts department’s handyman, he was there so often that a Harvard teacher asked him once after school, “So what class do you teach here, anyway?”

“Oh, I’m not a teacher here,” Miller said.

Just a volunteer – an involved parent pitching in.

Miller does everything for the Harvard fine arts department, from handing out water in the Harvard Milk Day parade for the marching band members to building equipment and sets for the musicals, chaperoning field trips, and working as a sound technician for the plays.

“We probably couldn’t do half the things we do without him,” Coffer said. “He’s so dedicated that he comes in and does anything we need.”

It started eight years back when Miller was always at the high school picking up his son, who was in junior high, from musical practices. Eventually, building trades teacher Robert Mundis told Miller, “Well, you’re here all the time – here’s a hammer!” Eight years later, not much has changed.

“The more I volunteer, the more I want to volunteer,” said Miller, president of the music boosters club. “It makes you feel good.”

During the day, Miller works at the Arrow aluminum foundry in Woodstock from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Afterward, he could loll on the couch and watch TV. He could take a nap until dinnertime. He could spend the free time however he’d like. But he chooses to head over to the high school to get to work around 3 p.m. – although a catnap beforehand is always still an option, Miller says.

A 1980 Harvard High School graduate, Miller got his carpentry skills from the building trades class he took as a teenager, where he learned how to build houses and read blueprints. He also learned from his father, who was always the family handyman – much like Miller today.

“We were always taking things apart,” Miller said. “Sometimes we’d put them back together, but sometimes not.”

Miller’s daughter is still at the school, and his son, who was Miller’s main tie to the fine arts department, graduated last year. Miller still comes back. The kids keep him coming back.

“They really like him,” Coffer said of the students. “They know he’s there to help and make things run smoothly, and I see kids ask him for advice sometimes with how to build things.”

They’re always pushing their video games on Miller. They poke fun at him that the last video game he played was Pac-Man, but Miller isn’t one to sit in front of a screen. When the day comes when he won’t be able to hammer a nail or walk outside in the parade, when “the only thing I’ll have to move is my thumbs, then I’ll work on [video games],” he said.

He hopes to continue working with the fine arts department for as long as he can. The sense of community and camaraderie among all the volunteers, teachers and students that he’s gained as a result of volunteering at the school is one of the most rewarding products of his work, he said.

“I learned that being part of the community is much more fun than sitting at home watching TV,” Miller said.

Once his daughter and her classmates graduate from the school, he’ll have a whole new group of eager actors and trombone players and percussionists coming in to replace them. It’s a cycle that never ceases.

Miller says this is his hobby now.

“It’s something I really love,” he said. “Once you start doing it, it’s like an addiction. What can I do now?”

The Miller lowdown

Age: 50

Town: Harvard

Job: Molder at Arrow Aluminum Foundry in Woodstock

Family: Wife Anna Marie Platt-Miller; two children, Zachary Platt and Elizabeth Platt; and three foreign exchange children, Julien Jorden from Switzerland, Mila Pimonat Scrichoy from Thailand and Akiho Nagoka from Japan.

Favorite bands: Cowboy Mouth, NRBQ, and Mumford and Sons

Favorite movie: “You Can’t Take It With You” (1936)

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