A pastor for three decades, Rev. Gary Miller loved his congregation like family. He died of COVID-19.
Despite attending the same small high school in the same small Illinois town, Rev. Gary and Robin Miller didn’t get to know one another until years after graduation when a mutual friend introduced them.
That night, Robin wrote her phone number on a spare piece of paper — a memento she later found tucked in one of Gary's special photo albums. He had saved the souvenir of their budding love his whole life.
This sort of tender thoughtfulness and special care would come to define the rest of Gary’s life, including the nearly three decades he spent as the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Iowa City.
Gary, 64, died just after the new year of COVID-19.
Born in 1956, Gary grew up in Ottawa, Illinois, a town of about 18,000 people at the juncture of the Fox and Illinois rivers.
He studied auto mechanics before following his calling into ministry. With a degree from Rhema Bible Training College in Oklahoma, Gary returned to the Midwest to take a pastorate at Grace Fellowship.
That position at the big blue church on Poweshiek Street would be his first – and only – ministry.
"He always hoped that he would find a church in the Midwest, and it's only two and a half hours from our home in Illinois,” Robin said. “So it just all worked out really well."
Gary was a "family man," Robin said, a caretaker for both biological family and church family.
When not at the pulpit, Gary enjoyed fishing, hunting and football – both kinds. While he watched American football, he was a coach for the Iowa City Kickers soccer league for five years, his obituary read.
Robin and Gary had two children and four grandchildren, who she says were her husband's "whole life."
"If he didn't hear from his kids every day, he'd call them to find out how they were doing,” she said. “Same with the grandkids. He wanted to FaceTime with them all the time. I'm sure they got sick of it once in a while, but that's just the way it was.”
At church, Grace Fellowship's modest-sized congregation means people get to know one another, Robin said.
"We've never been a really large church, so it's been a really close-knit group of people," she said. "You get to be very close with people when you're small like that, you can get to know them a lot better.”
Under Miller's leadership, new members were drawn to the congregation, said Brenda Knock, a longtime member.
Rev. Gary just radiated a love of faith, she said.
"That's what the pastor was about — loving the people and wanting people to have the joy of the Lord," she said.
Retired University of Iowa professor Stavros Deligiorgis agreed: "Gary Miller and his wife Robin––not excluding their children––truly modeled the grounded, generous and approachable Christians you would have loved to meet in any church.”
This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cleo Krejci covers education for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. You can reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter via @_CleoKrejci.
Iowans lost to COVID-19
The following deaths from COVID-19 were added in the past week to our list of more than 600 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.
Forrest Alcott, 65, Waterloo. Loved spending time with his great-grandchildren.
Janice Blake, 79, Waterloo. Enjoyed studying the Bible, baking and crocheting.
Todd Blanford, 63, Cedar Falls. Served his community as Cedar Falls Human Rights Commisioner.
Juanita Blaser, 88, Cedar Falls. An avid seamstress who made countless outfits, costumes and beautiful quilts for each member of her family.
Dale Bright Sr., 83, Waterloo. A member of the Local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 288.
Carol Bronson, 83, Council Bluffs. Enjoyed a long career at Union Pacific Railroad.
Doris "Jo" Chandler, 93, Cedar Rapids. a fierce competitor at cards, frequently besting family members.
Willie Eva Cook, 85, Waterloo. A nurse at Allen Memorial Hospital for more than three decades.
Reents Cordes, 73, Cedar Falls. An avid gardener.
Ronald Davis Sr., 73, Perry. A former Juvenile Probation Officer who loved hearing about the new lives of his former clients.
Mary Fain, 88, Cedar Falls. A classical piano prodigy who became director of classical music and senior fine arts producer for KUNI/KHKE.
John Fellenzer, 74, Waterloo. From musician to realtor, car salesman to locksmith, a man of many trades.
Delores Flesner, 80, Cedar Falls. Loved reading the Waterloo Courier and Parkersburg Eclipse.
Estle Foster, 94, Clarinda. Relished raising his family on his Century Farm.
Gary Harris, 87, Waterloo. Managed Younkers department stores around Iowa and Minnesota.
Harold Haskin, 80, Denver. Made delicious lefse and maple syrup for his church family.
Richard Hunt, 96, Cedar Falls. Traveled to the Black Hills in the summer to camp with his family.
Cloris Leachman, 94, Des Moines. An actress who won eight Primetime Emmy Awards and an Oscar.
Kevin McDonnell, 63, Newton.
Beverly McGuire, 92, Cedar Rapids. Sent visitors off with a homemade jar of jam, pickles or fresh tomatoes.
Terie McNamara, 70, Waterloo. A supervisor at Osco Drug/CVS.
Lee Mickey, 79, Cedar Falls. Retired from Cedar Falls Community School District to run a Bed and Breakfast with his wife in Vermont.
Robert Ellsworth Reeder, 74, Mason City. Passed days trout fishing in the streams of northeastern Iowa with his brothers.
Gail Rees Jr., 78, Greeley. Spent almost every weekend at the Bandimere Speedway track with his family, winning many trophies along the way.
Fred Roquet, 78, Mt. Auburn. Worked for John Deere and Exide Batteries.
Darrell Salmons, 82, Cedar Falls. A proud Cedar Falls Firefighter.
Bonnie Wilberding, 87, Mitchell County. A fierce spirit with a penchant for witty conversations.
Carol Williams, 93, Ottumwa. Part of the group who pushed to equip Ottumwa with audible outdoor warning sirens.