Frederick Knoll Miller, 3840 Rimrock Road, Billings, passed from this life on Nov. 16, 2008. Fred led an active and independent life until his very last three weeks.
Fred was born March 26, 1917, in Sheboygan, Wis., to Frederick J. Miller and Elsie Kohls Miller. He was a firm believer that his lifetime period represented "the good old days." He loved telling stories about his Norman Rockwell-like Sheboygan youth, his close-knit family of amiable parents and little sister, his large somewhat tempestuous, but loving, extended family, and his adventures with his neighborhood "gang" of buddies. Fred enjoyed being a boy scout and ultimately became an eagle scout.
Fred's lifelong interest in theater began in his Sheboygan neighborhood with backyard plays and later high school performances at Sheboygan High School. After graduating from high school, Fred continued his education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In 1940, he graduated with a BS degree in speech.
In September of 1940, Fred came to Billings to teach English, speech and drama at the brand new Billings High School. Fred's life was about to change forever because of a chance meeting on the first day of school. That day Fred was taken to lunch by another teacher, Billings native Warner Halgren. At the restaurant, Warner saw his friend Marie Borberg, who was also taking a new teacher to lunch. Introductions were made and Fred later said, "If it wasn't love at first sight, I don't know what I could call it." On Dec. 20, Fred and Marie were married. They have been in love and devoted to each other ever since.
In the summer of 1942, Fred began work on his master's degree at Northwestern University. In October 1942, he was called into military service. Fred served in England as a Staff Sergeant with the 381st Bombardment Group in the Army Air Forces. He was honorably discharged in September 1945. He returned to teaching at BHS and resumed his work on his master's degree which was conferred in 1949.
In 1950, with the help of Marie and many talented students (always referred to as "our kids"), Fred started what was to become the Pioneer Playhouse Summer Theater. The Playhouse began at Senior High, then Pioneer Park until it progressed to the grounds of the Wonderland Park on the old Laurel Road. Later the Playhouse moved to the 2200 block of Central Avenue. The Playhouse became a summertime tradition in Billings for 14 years. In 1989 Fred wrote, "The History of a Montana Summer Theater." The book told the whole Pioneer Playhouse story.
Fred taught 20 years at Senior High School and then moved on to another 20 years of teaching at Eastern Montana College, now MSU Billings. During this period, Fred produced and directed hundreds of plays at the high school, college, professional and community theater levels. He toured a National Children's Theatre production to Purdue University. He was asked to lead a USO Tour, he was the producer for the Billings Centennial production of "Yellowstone Hurrah!" and he directed the bicentennial production of "1776" and took it on a statewide tour for the Shriners.
Fred acted in theater from Chicago to Oregon and his interest has continued long past his teaching and Pioneer Playhouse days. Recently, Fred donated the Fred and Marie Miller Pavilion on the grounds of Mission Ridge to encourage concerts and various entertainments for the Billings community. This fall, the Billings Studio Theatre honored Fred for his contribution to theater in Billings by dedicating their current season to him.
Fred had many interests besides teaching. Until a year ago, Fred was an avid golfer. He was a past president of the Hilands Golf Club. He enjoyed being a member and past president of the Billings Village Golden "K" Kiwanis Club, and singing with the "Kiwanichords." Fred was a longtime member of the First Presbyterian Church, where he had served as a Deacon and an Elder. He was also a mason with Ashlar Lodge #29.
Fred is survived by his wife of 67 years, Marie Miller; his daughter Coralyn Miller Paulos, son-in-law Nick Paulos, granddaughter Andriana Eleni Paulos of Orinda, Calif.; granddaughter Demitria Marie Paulos, grandson-in-law Eric H. Lewis, great-grandson Oliver Frederick Lewis of San Francisco; daughter-in-law Jan Vartzikos of Washington, D.C.; niece Kathy Kunze and her husband Lee of Howards Grove, Wis.; grandnephew Eric Kunze and his wife Allison of Graefton, Wis.; cousins Joan Williams, DarIa Altman, and Le Ann Tevsh of Sheboygan. Fred was preceded in death by his sister, Shirley Miller Kroll of Sheboygan and his son, Ramsey K. Miller of Billings.
All who knew Fred are invited to a memorial celebration of his life at 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11, at the Lillis Chapel at Mission Ridge, 3840 Rimrock Road.
Donations in his name may be made to Special "K" Ranch, ZooMontana, Billings Studio Theatre or to a good cause of your choice.
Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary has charge of arrangements. Remembrances may be shared with the family by visiting www.michelottisawyers.com.