Friday, April 18, 2014

Olnton Dickman Miller (1896-1981)

From the 1953 Arizona General Assembly class portrait.

   Prominent in Arizona agricultural affairs as well as politics, the oddly named Olnton Dickman Miller was a native of Illinois, but would find distinction in "The Grand Canyon State", being a one-term member of the Arizona State Senate and a candidate for Governor in the 1956 primary.
  The son of John McAnelley (a lawyer and professor) and Adeline Dickman Miller, Olnton Dickman "O.D." Miller was born on February 6, 1896 in North Harvey, Illinois. John McAnelly Miller was a past president of the Ruskin College in Missouri, later relocating to Florida to establish not only the town of Ruskin but also a short-lived college (also named Ruskin College) in 1910. With his son's birth in early 1896, John McA. Miller decided to bestow upon him a highly unusual name, and the backstory behind this name is given mention in the 1958 History of Arizona, which notes:
"As an educator, George McA. Miller had a profound respect for the great men in our nation's history; and he also wanted to give his son an original name. He therefore combined the last three letters of Lincoln's and of Washington's names to form Olnton".
    Although bestowed this interesting name due to his father's passion for history, Miller himself was nonplussed, later stating that "I've never used it--just my initials." "O.D." Miller spent his formative years in Illinois, removing with his family to Florida in 1907 where his father founded the community of Ruskin. O.D. Miller would go on to attend the nearby Ruskin College, where he studied agriculture, and while still a young man began work as a "scientific assistant for marketing" at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His work at this department saw him be reassigned to Nebraska in the early 1920s, being a local representative for the USDA's Bureau of Markets and Crop Estimates, and later moved to Phoenix, Arizona to continue agricultural work. O.D. Miller married in Lansing, Michigan on July 23, 1923 to Frances "Frankie" H. McDonald (1890-1967) and later had one son, Donald L. Miller.
   Following his removal to Arizona Miller became the directing head of the Barker-Miller Distributing Co., and as this company's director was also a member of the Arizona Co-operative Produce Association. Through his business interests Olnton Miller would become one of Arizona's premier growers of produce and produce distribution, and in 1929 was instrumental in authoring the state's Fruit and Vegetable Standardization Act, "which legalized standards and grades for agricultural products in the state."
   Throughout the 1930s and 40s Olnton Miller continued to be involved in various aspects of state agriculture, being a co-owner of the Phoenix-based Miller-Johns produce-shipping company and a first vice president of the Western Grower's Protective Association. In 1938 he ran an unsuccessful candidacy for the Arizona House of Representatives as a Democrat, and in 1952 re-entered the political spectrum when he was elected to represent Maricopa County in the Arizona State Senate. Serving in the legislative session of 1953-55, Miller left the senate after one term and in 1956 announced his candidacy for Governor of Arizona. Running as one of three Republican candidates that year, Miller had a bit of explaining to do when it was found that he had run as a Democrat in the race for state representative eighteen years prior. In his speech to the Yavapai Republican Women's Club, Miller stated that he:

 "Campaigned as a member of that party because he felt it improved his chances of being elected, and of being able, as a member of the legislature, to present his ideas on the operations of state government."
   Miller later explained that after his 1938 loss he had registered as a Republican and had been a member of that party ever since. Miller's gubernatorial candidacy eventually came to naught, but he achieved some measure of redemption when in 1959 he began an eight year tenure on the Arizona State University Board of Regents.

       Miller (second from left) during his time on the Board of Regents,  from the 1960 Desert Yearbook.

   Olnton D. Miller resigned from the Board of Regents in 1967 at age 71 and in June 1972 was honored by the Arizona State University with an Honorary Degree. He died nine years later on December 12, 1981 and was preceded in death by his wife Frances, who had died in 1967. Both were interred at a cemetery "near Phoenix, Arizona", and are also memorialized with a cenotaph at the Ruskin Cemetery in Ruskin, Florida, the burial location of a number of Miller's family.

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