Collinsville mayor to retire after 15 years of service
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By Devese “Dee” Ursery
Collinsville’s longest serving mayor is calling it a day after 15 years of service to the community.
In March, Mayor John Miller announced he will be retiring at the end of his current term. Running unopposed in the April 4 election is Richard “Jeff” Stehman, who barring any unusual circumstances will take the reins as the city’s mayor.
Miller, 75, who originally hailed from Akron, Ohio, joined the Air Force in 1967 as an aircraft mechanic and became a Collinsville resident later that year when he landed at his first duty-station after basic training at Scott Air Force Base.
Miller said that he was high on the draft list so he decided to join the Air Force because he wanted to control his own military destiny.
“I wanted to control what I did in the military so I joined,” Miller said.
Shortly after arriving at SAFB, Miller met his future wife Diane, a proud Collinsville resident. The two married in the fall of 1968 and 29 days after their nuptials, Miller was off to Vietnam for a year.
Miller returned to the U.S. in 1969 with orders for Offutt Air Force Base, in Omaha, Nebraska. After he finished his term of enlistment at OAFB in 1971, Miller and his wife moved back to Collinsville where he later became a firefighter/paramedic in 1973.
Miller said a friend convinced him to join him in taking the firefighter’s aptitude test to become a firefighter. He said that they both finished one and two on the list and within three months they were working for the Collinsville Fire Department. Miller worked 31 years for the department and retired as captain in 2004.
According to Miller, Stan Schaeffer, mayor at the time, told him that he should consider running for city council. In 2005, due to Schaeffer’s nudging, Miller ran for city council and was voted on as mayor pro-tem.
Having worked for the fire department for over 30 years, Miller has a unique perspective from both the city employee side and the citizen side. During his time as a firefighter Miller saw with his own eyes how the impact of inadequate equipment affected efficiency of how workers did their job due to the shortage of funds..
Miller said in 2008, he received a call from the city manager, at that time who told him the sad news that Mayor Shaeffer had passed away in his sleep. He said that the council voted him in as mayor, and from March 2008 until present day he’s been mayor of Collinsville.
Looking back on his legacy as mayor Miller pointed out a few highlights that he is most proud of. He said one high point was the establishment of the Collinsville Area Community Foundation in memory of former mayor, Stan Schaeffer who will always stand out to him.
“It wasn’t until after Stan’s death that the Foundation was established, which started as a scholarship program for Collinsville student residents only,” Miller said. “It was not what it is today.”
The Foundation works to enhance the quality of life for surrounding communities with a commitment to inclusiveness and diversity. It does this by bringing people and resources together to identify and address present and emerging school and community needs.
Another highlight that Miller said he was proud of was CIty taking back its parks from the Collinsville Area Recreation District. He said the parks were in such disarray they needed funding and research in order to bring them back to decency, so the citizens can enjoy them.
During Miller’s term as mayor of the City, he has helped provide the Aqua Park and willoughby Farms with some much needed improvements for residents and visitors to enjoy. He is also proud of the fact that on May 1, 2018, the City took ownership and operations of the Gateway Convention Center. The Center is one of the largest revenue generators in Collinsville.
Miller also established the Hometown Hero Program, which honors local military veterans by hanging up banners of their pictures around the City.
Miller said that since he has been in office the sewer plant has been upgraded to meet industry standards and a brand new water plant was built. He said that the City would have been in jeopardy of losing its license to operate had it not made the upgrades.
Miller said that city staff looked at the price of the property as well as got bids to repair the existing facility. He said the prices came in at less than $2 million apart. Miller expressed that repairs for the old plant would be $ 20 million and to build a brand new building from the ground up is $22 million. “It was a no-brainer,” Miller said.
Miller said the one thing he wished he had gotten done, but didn’t was the implementation of the third fire station. He said it’s on the books for now and the City is looking into acquiring property and design plans. As the mayor of Collinsville Miller has made countless speeches in front of crowds, at numerous events around the city.
Miller said that being a veteran is very dear to his heart and speaking on behalf of those who can’t speak is my heartfelt challenge.
Miller said that he doesn’t plan on having a third retirement; his plans are to relax, work in his yard and travel with his wife and friends. He said that Al and Barb Hepperman are their “besties” who they travel, play cards and socialize with.
Miller went on to express that Collinsville is not the city government, it’s the residents in the community that make up the character of Collinsville.
“Being the longest serving mayor in the city of Collinsville is something that I will cherish,” Miller said. “I can only thank the people because they are the ones that voted and kept me in office.”