Barbershop has, very sadly, lost a Classic.
A member since 1953, past Cardinal District president and quartet champion, and family member of every guy in the Greater Indianapolis Chapter, Phil Miller passed away yesterday morning at the age of 98.
Phil had been active on the risers at each rehearsal and performance until just a few months ago after he fell at home and had a string of complications and setbacks following his hospitalization.
Many of the long-timers will probably remember Phil as the little guy who looked just like Red Skelton. Many of us will also remember Phil fondly as a gentle soul who absolutely LOVED barbershop. If you attended the 2006 International Convention in Indianapolis, you may remember Phil as the little older gentleman who spent most of the convention sitting at the table at the entrance to the Harmony Marketplace, smiling and greeting everyone as they passed.
Phil leaves behind no blood relatives, but many extended family members, as his barbershop friends were truly his family.
There will be a memorial service for Phil, and details will be announced as soon as they're known.
Chapter member Bob Boehmer wrote the following article about Phil for the Greater Indianapolis Chapter bulletin in September, 2005:
It isn't every day you can be in the presence of a person who has almost 100 years of history to tell you about! Not only that, but one who's doing so with precise dates, names and places! My two hours with Phil Miller were one of the most fascinating times I can remember! What an amazing life.
Phil was born at his parent's home at 629 E. 57th St. on July 3, 1911. There were only two houses on the block at that time. He was the second son of Minah and Edgar. Brother Richard was one year older. He lost his mother at age four and his dad at age ten. The two orphaned brothers were then raised by a series of families and friends which kept them from going into an orphanage. Phil attended Broadripple Grade School for a time. Other schools (because he was shifted from place to place) included one on the West side at Division and Ray, Ervington School #55, School #32 at Capitol and 21st, School #2 at 213 E. Walnut St. and schools in Brown and Morgan Counties. Phil and Richard then talked their way into being able to move up to Indianapolis and set up housekeeping for themselves while attending Arsenal Tech High School.
Phil wanted to be an Architectural Engineer and he studied those crafts at Tech but unfortunately was unable to find work in that field after graduation. He enrolled at Indiana University in the Physical Education program but had to drop out after two months because of lack of money. He got a job selling vacuum cleaners for a while and did well. He also took up semi-professional boxing at the Harry Atherton's gym but decided the money wasn't worth the pain!
It was now 1932. He was 21 years old. He got into an apprentice program at Ajax brewery in Indianapolis. The Master Brewer's son advised him of better opportunities at Heudepohl's in Cincinnati. That didn't work out, however, so he moved to St. Louis and went to work for Falstaff. Then World War II came along.
Phil was now 30 years old but in 1942 he enlisted in the Air Force and was trained as a radio specialist and gunner. While in training, he "rubbed shoulders" with Clark Gable and Ronald Reagan (". . . boy, that Reagan was a big guy!") Then it was off to an air force base near London where he was a member of a B26 Martin Marauder bombing crew. He flew 69 missions over Europe and was shot down three times. Typical of WW II vets, he declines to talk about any of those details. He returned to the States in August of 1944 and was one of the first to be discharged under the points system in May of 1945.
He worked in sales with the Holland Furnace company for a while, then went into selling steam-electric radiators and again did very well. The owner of that company also owned the Hamilton Jewelry store, the Hoosier Pen Shop and Weiss' delicatessen at 17 E. Market St. Phil ended up managing the jewelry store until he retired in 1980.
His entry into Barbershopping was facilitated during his early years with Falstaff. The 1940 International was held in St. Louis and Phil was enamored by the sounds of one of the quartets he heard in the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel. That quartet was "The Chordbusters". One day in 1952 while in Evansville on business he met some guys who started to sing our kind of music. Phil, with his great ear, fit right in. One of the men invited him to attend a meeting of the Broad Ripple Chapter when he got back home. He was immediately asked to join a quartet and he sang with "The Naptowners" for three years. When the Indianapolis Chapter #4 disbanded, Broadripple took on the name of Greater Indianapolis Chapter. It had only six members at the time. Phil became its first President in 1959.
The guys used to raise money by staging joke contests, with the worst joke having to donate 25 cents to the treasury! He joined the "Kordinators" quartet, which won the Cardinal District Championship in 1958. The "Kordinators" bought shirts for the chorus. He moved on to singing with the "Notarisers", "The Caballeros", the "Over Fifty Four", and finally, "The Two Generations" quartets. The latter quartet was voted Cardinal District Quartet of the year. Phil was also District President in 1961-62 and spent much effort and time as a District coach and coordinator. He was District B.O.T.Y. in 1963. His jewelry store was the District headquarters for many years.
In addition to being the only baritone I know who can sing on the upper half of the tonal center of any note (on demand).he also has sung on every annual show, was Chapter Historian for years and helped Dick Nyikos put together our 50 year commemorative book. He continues to be able to stand on the risers for a whole night (if necessary) in support of the learning curve leading to competition.
Phil concluded his chat with me by observing that "the good Lord has been mighty kind to him". I would add how blessed we in this Chapter and hobby have been to have Phil in our midst for 53 years!
God Bless, Phil. We'll miss you, but heaven can always use another baritone!
Greater Indianapolis Chapter, BHS
Capital City Chorus, SAI