Jesse Ray Miller passed away on Friday, December 25, 2020, in Delta, Colorado.
Jess was born on October 14, 1940, in Collinsville, Oklahoma, the oldest of six children born to Henry and Ruth (Garrison) Miller. Jess spent his childhood moving between farming communities in Texas and Colorado. He graduated from Delta High School with the Class of 1959.
After high school, he attended Mesa Junior College to play football. After a football injury, his high school friend, Rick Traynor, talked him into trying the sport of wrestling. Despite having never wrestled before, Jess would place 2nd at the 1961 NJCAA Wrestling Championships held in Farmingdale, New York.
His success at Mesa afforded him the opportunity to wrestle for revered Western State College coach, Tracy Borah. He was a member of the 1963 and 1964 NCAA College Division National Champion teams and the Mountain Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Champion at 177 lbs. in 1964. Both teams were inducted into the Mountaineer Sports Hall of Fame, as well as the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Hall of Fame.
Although his time wrestling at Western would help to shape his future career path, his biggest accomplishment was meeting and marrying Barbara Gash of Denver, Colorado. They married on September 8, 1962, and celebrated fifty-eight years of marriage. After both earned teaching degrees from Western, they made their home in McClave, Colorado. Jess always enjoyed talking about the challenges there of coaching numerous sports in each season, often without an assistant! In 1967, the young couple had the opportunity for Jess to return to western Colorado as a teacher and coach in Paonia, Colorado.
While in Paonia, their family would be joined by three children, Tamra, Chuck and Jodi. The family made their home on a small farm on Stewart Mesa, where they raised a variety of livestock and enjoyed making lifelong friends with other families in the North Fork Valley. When Barb returned to teaching after all the kids were in school, the family moved to Delta where Jess taught at Delta Middle School and coached wrestling at Delta High School until his retirement in 1993.
Jess had a profound impact on the lives of countless young people in Delta County through his coaching. He is well remembered for his intensity, integrity and knowledge of the sport. Even decades later, he spoke with pride about his wrestlers and had a shocking memory for details about pivotal matches in their careers. More than just teaching the fundamentals of wrestling, however, he is remembered for mentoring young men to be respectful, hard-working and contributing members of society.
The community remembers him for his time on the edge of the wrestling mat, but his family will forever be thankful for the time he spent out of the gym. Jess instilled in his children a strong work ethic but also an appreciation for taking time to enjoy life. Countless stories can be told about time spent in the West Elks and beyond, hunting, fishing and camping. He and Barb loved to travel in their retirement, and no matter where they went he was likely to make a new friend or discover that someone in a random restaurant shared a mutual acquaintance. He literally never met a stranger, or if you were a stranger, you didn’t stay that way for long.
When the grandchildren came along, Jess flourished in his new role. He spent hours loving on them as infants and entertaining them as toddlers. Papa was their go-to for rides on the tractor, 4-wheeler or horse. He could often be found sitting on the bleachers watching a soccer game, wrestling match, livestock show, music performance or volleyball game. He knew his grandchildren’s teammates and friends and cheered for them like they were his own. And he loved nothing more than to welcome his growing family into his home and spend a few hours catching up on life. The grandkids knew that Papa would always send them off with a handshake and a hug and maybe a little bit of cash in their pocket, just in case they needed something. Without doubt, the greatest gift that he gave to his family was the gift of his time and his unconditional love. He will be missed immeasurably.
Jess is survived by his beloved wife, Barbara; three children, Tamra Aguirre of Delta, Colorado, Chuck (Amy) Miller of Hotchkiss, Colorado, and Jodi (Landon) McKee of Fruita, Colorado; seven grandchildren, Morgan Miller, JD Miller, Justice McKee, Bailey Miller, Reegen McKee, Charlie Miller and Easton McKee. He is further survived by his siblings, Jim (Dusty) Miller of Delta, Colorado, Kenneth Miller of Lolo, Montana, and Tony (Jeannette) Miller of Simpsonville, South Carolina, and nieces Jessica Miller (Brendon Stewart) of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Amy (Nick) Johnson of Delta, Colorado, along with numerous other nieces and nephews. He will also be missed by numerous lifelong friends with whom he shared countless memories. He was preceded in death by his granddaughter, Alondra Aguirre, his parents and his siblings Eldon Miller and Jane Homolka.
A private family interment service will take place at Mesa View Cemetery in January. A social gathering and Celebration of Life will be held this summer when it is safe to gather again.
In lieu of flowers, please make a contribution in Jess’s honor to the Jess Miller Memorial Scholarship ℅ Delta County Federal Credit Union, 100 Circle Drive, Delta, CO 81416.