Dr. Herman Miller: Residents remember well-known doctor, dedicated churchgoer

Published 10:57 am Thursday, December 19, 2013

Dr. Herman Miller works on a patient. Miller, a well-known doctor, died Dec. 11. -- Photo provided

Dr. Herman Miller works on a patient. Miller, a well-known doctor, died Dec. 11. — Photo provided

His arms were the first to hold some people who still live in Austin today.

Others his age, to those generations younger, have received his care in various capacities — at a clinic that simply had a first and last name on it, not a big-company logo.

That well-known Austin man, Dr. Herman Miller — who provided a form of health care decreasingly seen these days — died Wednesday, Dec. 11. He was 86, and still as bold as people remember him. Those memories, however, are often like scenes from a black-and-white TV show. Herman began his own medical practice in the late 50s, back when some doctors still made house calls. He was that guy.

Dr. Herman Miller and his wife, Helen, pose for a photo at a dinner. Miller, a well-known doctor, died Dec. 11. -- Photo provided

Dr. Herman Miller and his wife, Helen, pose for a photo at a dinner. Miller, a well-known doctor, died Dec. 11. — Photo provided

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Allan Malerich, a nephew, recalls those nostalgic moments: the unforgettable times nephews spend with mysterious and larger-than life uncles, or so they seem.

“I rode with him many times,” Malerich said, drawing on decades of memory. “I remember that every afternoon he commuted to St. Olaf Hospital in Austin to make hospital rounds.”

Yet that would only be the beginning of a day’s adventure with a renowned doctor who spanned more than one county to meet patients, especially busy farmers who didn’t have time to commute.

The tales, still believable, stretch further, and delightfully so.

“I know he routinely accepted farm products as payment: eggs, chicken, pigs, pork, etc.,” Malerich said.

Dr. Herman Miller, Left

Dr. Herman Miller, Left

For a few years in Grand Meadow, Herman operated a little clinic among the old, brick buildings of a small-town scene. He lived in an apartment with his wife, Helen.

“In Grand Meadow, first in [his] practice, my brother and I stayed with Helen and Herman in their apartment on the second floor of, then, the bank,” Malerich said. “His medical office was in a little, one-story building right next to the bank.”

Herman was born Dec. 4, 1927, in Hartley, Iowa, and was a brilliant child. He apparently excelled in school while living on a farm near Worthington, Minn., and carried that trait into college. Malerich said Herman entered high school early, but Herman’s father had to haul him 10 miles to school by horse-drawn wagon each day.

Dr. Herman Miller and his wife Helen -- Photo provided

Dr. Herman Miller and his wife Helen — Photo provided

During his auspicious year’s at the University of Minnesota’s medical school, Herman practiced medical terms and recited information from the accepted books of the day.

“Helen and he would sit at the drugstore, and she would quiz him out of the medical textbooks,” Malerich said.

Herman completed an internship at what is now Regions Hospital in St. Paul and then entered the Air Force. He was honorably discharged in February 1957 before starting his business in Grand Meadow. He wasn’t there for long before moving his business to Austin, where he switched buildings on several occasions but always kept his one-person staff, his wife. Though Malerich never received treatment from the family doctor, Herman wasn’t shy about treating family, and took it a step further.

“I know that Herman treated several family members, including some pretty extensive treatments, things at the time ahead of standard, accepted practice,” Malerich said.

While Herman ran his own practice, he also had his own patients at St. Olaf Hospital in Austin, even though he never worked for the hospital. That was a testament to his character.

“He was a type-A personality, strong-willed, forceful — always wanted to be in charge,” Malerich said.

The Millers were also longtime members of Austin’s Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, where they are missed, and others talk about Herman’s bold character.

“He was a real fixture here, long before me,” said Pastor Glenn Monson.

Though Monson may not have known Herman as long as previous pastors and many church members, he loved and respected him the same. Monson said Herman did everything to the fullest, whether focusing on his work, hobbies or his friendships.

“He just wasn’t timid in any way,” Monson said. “So bold in regards to everything. He just lived his life that way. I really enjoyed him very much.”

From his practice, Herman knew many people in Austin and beyond. Whether he learned from time with patients or was born with it, Herman could socialize.

Monson, of course, has his own encounters with Herman in and out of church, especially after Helen died years ago.

“After she died, he’d come by himself,” Monson said. “And then he would say to my wife and I, ‘so what are you doing for supper?’ And then he’d take us down to Jerry’s for dinner because he just wanted to extend the evening. He was very social.”

Herman’s guardian of late knew that as well, as Herman couldn’t reach a building elevator without interrupting numerous patients and acquaintances from the past. At Herman’s estate sale more than a year ago, people not only came to buy an extensive collection of belongings from an avid woodworker, hunter and hobbyist, but to reminisce.

“At the auction of all of his personal property, a good number of people in attendance came up to him and greeted him, and many were former appointments,” Malerich said.

Herman was generous, too. Among being the sincere yet understanding doctor who graciously allowed unconventional payments, he deeply cared for patients, animals and especially his church. When he retired about a decade ago, he offered cherished belongings from his business. He offered items to those who needed them around the world.

“He gifted the church with his office furniture when he retired from medicine,” Monson said. “It was kind of a treasure of his, his credenza and his desk and chair. He also gave all of his equipment from his medical practice to Global Health Ministries, which is an outfit that takes used medical equipment from America and ships it to developing countries.”

For those who never received any of the tools, clocks or keepsakes, there are simple, serene memories — some worth even more. Herman’s Funeral was held today at his beloved church.