From Gold Beach to Gold Slam
Dan Miller was born in Cleveland Heights on September 26, 1916. Dan's parents had a cottage with accessible tennis courts and that's where it all began. His father, Cloyd Miller, played socially, but was better than most and earned his share of trophies.
The children all taught themselves to play. Early on it was obvious that Dan was better than average and he continued to play through school. He graduated from Heights High in 1934 where he played on the tennis team for three years.
He went on to Colgate where he played tennis for only 1 year and then didn't play again for nearly 25 years!
When he got out of college WWII was raging and he knew the U.S. would soon be in the war. He worked for the government as a labor checker in Akron, Ohio and then volunteered for the Navy. He went into the V-7 program where he trained at Notre Dame and then Chicago.
His future wife, Mabel, was working at a Marshall Fields in Chicago at the time. During the war women gave parties for the service men to raise funds and raise their spirits. Mabel went to one such party; it cost her $1.00. "She says it's the best bargain she ever had. She paid $1.00 and met me, her future husband!"
Dan and Mabel Miller
Just after they were married Dan went overseas. He was stationed to an LSI - the smallest ocean going vessel in the Navy. He was classified as Landing Craft Infantry. There were only 140 troops and 4 officers on the craft. He crossed the English Channel 5 times and then went onto Sicily. His outfit carried troops from Italy to the south of France.
Dan was a Captain and as he thinks about his 4 years in the Navy he remembers it as being both "interesting and very exciting. They kept us as far away from the action as possible because we were carrying troops."
Dan was very proud of his ship and the fact that it was often ranked No. 1 by the brass when they went to Chesapeake fort inspections.
He vividly remembers D-Day.
There were 3-4 landing craft assigned to the British. Dan landed at Gold Beach, which had been abandoned by the Germans. The ships were so thick that they had to travel back and forth like they were looking to park a car - there were that many ships on the beach.
When they finally found a spot there was a huge tide. When the tide went out it carried them in and they were on the beach. The beach had been marked with "x's" by the Germans showing where explosives where. They had abandoned the beach so quickly they had not had a chance to remove the warnings.
Dan's ship was less than 6 inches from an "x" when the tide went out. "There were signs up all over saying "ACHTUNG MINES" because the Germans had no chance to take them down."
On D-Day there was a severe storm and the barriers used to protect ships coming in where gone. "The storm ran the Liberty ships from bow to stern. We blew the bottoms out to make a break wall. The ships themselves were then scrapped and when we landed we took anything we could get off of those scrapped ships." Dan wound up with a new door for his state room. "The waste of war is so phenomenal."
To enable the Army to break out a St. Lo, the Air Force put every bomber, in their command, in the air at one time. Dan remembers telling a shipmate to look up to the heavens. "You could not see the
sky above you, there were so many planes in the air there wasn't a space for a small bit of blue to be seen. There must have been 1000 planes overhead."
The Germans were not what Dan feared most, but rather the weather. An LC1 is a flat bottom boat and floats "like a cork on the water." Throughout his 4 years he experienced huge waves and tumultuous storms. He remembers often being in the bottom of a swell and only seeing water around him. Then the ship would start to shake and gradually it would rise back up. Once on top you could see the entire convoy again. Then the process would start all over. "When you were on watch you where always exhausted from supporting yourself from being thrown from side to side."
He became concerned when he learned his ship was going to be turned into a rocket carrier and head off to Japan. Dan wasn't looking forward to it, but knew if duty called he would have to follow his orders. Hiroshima came about before he headed for Japan and the trip was called off.
Dan's four years were up and he was discharged. Dan thinks if he had not been married, he may have stayed in the service.
For a few years before joining the Navy Dan taught History at Heights High. So it was natural that he would go back into teaching when he came out. Teachers were paid $2400 a year at the time with an automatic $100 increase for every year they taught.
Dan felt he should get credit for his 4 years in the Navy. The school superintendent felt differently. Dan took the issue to the school board who gave him the increase. Of course, this caused hard feelings with the superintendent who had turned him down and who then did everything he could to make things miserable for Dan. Finally, Dan quit.
Dan struggled for a little while. An aptitude test told him he should be working for himself, but that wasn't practical at the time. He got a job at a heating and plumbing company and it wasn't long before he took the advice of the test and opened his own company. There were lots of "do-it-yourself" individuals, at that time, especially building their own companies. He showed people how to do heating themselves and sold them the material they needed to do it.
From 1950 to 1980 he owned and operated the Dan Miller Heating Co. In 1980 he sold the company to W.F. Hahn and it has since been sold twice. The good reputation he has built up has kept the name going to this day.
Dan and Mabel with
daughter Corrine and son Duncan
Dan and Mabel have three children - sons Duncan and Stuart and daughter Corrine. They have one grandchild, Logan.
"One of our favorite hobbies is bragging about our children, we just love to let everybody know how great all three of them are." None of Dan's children play tennis.
Logan and Corrine
Finally, at age 50 Dan started playing tennis again, mainly just a weekend hobby. Dan was interested in all forms of sports and athletics but "tennis was what I could do best, and honestly we are all a little contemptuous of golfers; we don't really consider them athletes. They ride in a cart, go out and hit a ball. That's not an athlete. We kid them a lot."
He laughs at the notion that tennis is a rich mans game. He points out that golfers pay more for one round of golf then they pay for an entire week. "For $100 entry fee we can play singles or doubles any time we want. There's a banquet and full run of the Club. Even after we loose a tournament we can still play social tennis on the courts at no charge and they even give is the balls!"
The closer he got to retirement the more he played. He went to the National Clay Court Tournament in Knoxville Tennessee and realized there was no national tournament for men over 45. So he started one that went on to be very successful.
At age 62 he went to the nationals. The atmosphere was fascinating. There were 100 players in the 55 year old category. He told his wife "This is what I'm going to do when I retire." Little did he know just how that statement would play out.
Since he retired at age 65 he has played in over 80 national tournaments. Every year there are two on the East Coast (outdoor and hard-court) and two on the West Coast (grass and clay).
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is housed in London and Dan is a member. He has taken part in World Championships around the world. Every year there is a different host country and he has played in England, Germany, Austria, Spain, Australia and three in the United States.
This past year (2004) was in Philadelphia and health issues caused him to miss it. It was the first year health problems kept him from competing. But he is on the mend again and playing 2-3 times a week at the Mayfield Village Tennis Club.
"I am fortunate to have such an exciting retirement" says Miller. He always looks forward to the next event. "All of the people involved have such a positive attitude so you look forward to each event whether you win or loose. Loosing is not a problem. Not participating - now that is a problem."
The games are most often played without umpires or referees. Dan says the people he plays with have respect for the game and just wouldn't think of making a bad call or disputing someone else's call.
Dan with tennis buddy
"By our age, those who would take advantage of the lack of supervision have been weeded out and the real tennis players want no part of them on or off the court."
Dan is very competitive and truly loves the game. He considers cheating to be the ultimate sin because it distorts and eventually destroys the game.
Dan has always considered himself just "a tad above average" with "more than my share of good luck." He stresses the need for being in top physical shape to play competitive tennis, citing the need to run as an example. He believes he has won over many players with much more talent, but they are not in as good shape.
"I have beaten Wimbledon winners. I'm not even qualified to be their ball boy. But they weren't in good shape."
Dan with some of his awards
Dan feels there is a need for audience approval in all tennis players. He finds the audience stimulating and causes a player to raise their game to a higher level. He says they are all hams hoping to get into Court One where they are up front and near the audience. The most famous of the top ranked senior players was, of course, Bobby Riggs, who always drew a crowd.
The prize for winning a national championship is The Gold Ball. Dan has 32 Gold Balls that he's won over a twenty-two year period. That is in addition to countless bronze and silver awards.
Some Awards Dan has won
At age 85 Dan won all four of the possible national championships or a Gold Slam! The USTA (United States Tennis Association) invited Dan and his wife to the US Open where they had the privilege of sitting in the President's box. "You couldn't buy that kind of seat and the excitement that went with it."
Competition is broken down into 5 year age groups. The first year he was competing in the 80's, the World Championships were held in Austria and he won. It was to be one of many times Dan Miller was ranked # 1 in the world.
Dan and more awards
Tennis has also given him the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. He corresponds with friends he has met at various tournaments.
The center of the Senior Tennis Circuit in Europe is Portsach, Austria. There are two senior tournaments every year. People pick and choose which ones they can attend but, as Dan says "Everyone goes to Portsach!"
Dan's wife, Mabel, does not play, but she was his coach for quite a while. Then one day she asked "Why did you hit the ball into the net?" and he fired her. He laughs when he tells the story of firing his wife, but he never did "hire" her back again!
"Mabel is very supportive. I don't know how I could do all of this if I didn't have her support and have her with me."
Mabel was raised in San Francisco and her family is still there, so among all of the tennis trips they also try to go to San Francisco as often as possible.
Dan says he just can not imagine a more delightful experience. He loves tennis so much that the thought of not being able to play is not one he will even entertain. "I can't complain. If it ended tomorrow I would still be grateful for all of the experiences and opportunities tennis gave me."
He plans on going west in May to start the tournament circuit. He and his wife are both over their medical problems and he's anxious to get back into the "swing of things."
Dan hopes to encourage other seniors to take up tennis, at any level. He finds it exhilarating and it keeps him in good shape.
Dan is truly an example for all of us. At 89 years of age he can be very proud of his Gold Slam and his countless awards and trophies.
Maybe the thing he should be most proud of is that at age 89 he is on his way to another tournament and has no intention of stopping. Profiled by Debbie Hanson
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