Giving more than groceries

 

Last Thursday, the Wisconsin Grocers Association surprised Carl Miller with a community service award in an informal ceremony at the back of his grocery store, the long-standing Verona institution known as Miller and Sons Supermarket.

The small, brief ceremony – with fewer than 10 attendees – was just how Miller preferred it.

“He doesn’t do it for the recognition,” explained his daughter, Andrea Miller, who had nominated him for the award. “It’s just who he is.”

He was one of three grocers in the state to be honored this year with the WGA’s Community Service Award.

During the presentation, WGA president and CEO Brandon Scholz explained that the award was “made to recognize grocers who give back without asking for credit.”

Miller, who has been involved in his family’s grocery business since he was 10, has used his business for many years to help schools, chamber events and local organizations, a WGA press release announcing the award explained.

“They told me I was winning something, but I didn’t know what it was,” he told the Press after the 5-minute ceremony.

History

The Miller family entered the grocery business in 1916, when it partnered with an existing local general store and renamed it Stewart and Miller. In 1950, it was renamed to be Miller and Son for Carl’s dad, Keith. Then in 1958, it was renamed again to be called Miller and Sons, for Adrian, Greg and Carl. Carl took over the business in 1997.

“Carl and the store are recognized as the Verona grocery store.” Scholz said.

He added that Miller’s connection with the community and, “the fact that he’s been with the business so long” helped make him a standout candidate for this award.

Miller said his family history, going back to when Verona was a village of fewer than 500 residents, contributed to his role as a community member.

“As long as I can remember, (helping the community) is what we did, and it’s the way I was raised,” he said.  “It’s part of being in a small community, you have to give back.”

Today, he is continuing the family tradition of passing on knowledge by training his daughter and nephew in the grocery business and involving them in the store’s operations.

Andrea Miller wrote in her nomination letter to the WGA that the business is technically groceries, but “what he knows is people, and that has fueled his 50-plus years in the grocery industry.”

And she said that personal connection is why she nominated him.

“Hopefully it will let him know how I feel about him,” she said.

Community service

Veronans don’t have to look hard or far to see the impact Miller has made in the community.

Scholz found that out himself as he was preparing for the ceremony to start.

“Just as I was standing here, a woman stopped by to ask what was going on,” he said. “I told her Carl was getting an award for community service. Then she began telling me a story about years ago when she used to coordinate a kids football team. One day she realized the kids needed something to eat so she called up Miller and Sons and Carl came and gave them buttered rolls before the kids’ bus drove away. He just dropped them off and left. He never said it’s from Millers or anything.”

Marked by his humility and willingness to give, Miller also supports all of the area schools, is a regular buyer of FFA livestock at the Dane County Fair, collects daily donations for the food pantry and hosts a “Senior Day” every Wednesday, where seniors get 5 percent off of their purchase.

But it extends beyond the exchange of money, the award letter added.

“Carl’s selfless and generous ways can also be seen in his store, where he often hires people with challenges to afford them possibly the only opportunity for a job, as well as seniors who stock shelves and countless students to check and bag groceries,” it noted.

Verona Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Karl Curtis added that Miller also gives to Chamber events and is generous with his brat sales for many organizations in town.

“Nobody in Verona deserves this award more than Carl,” Curtis said. “For the things that we know that he does and the things that we don’t know he does.”

Miller, who will get the formal award presented to him at the chairman’s banquet during the WGA Innovation Expo on Oct. 15, at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, said he doesn’t ever expect to get anything back in return for his giving. Instead, he said does what he does because “making people happy is kind of a fun thing.”