Life Stories

LIFE STORIES: Calling takes Salvation Army officer across country

Salvation Army Major Andy Miller poses for a picture Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in the worship theater of the Quincy Kroc Center. Miller is a fifth-generation Salvation Army officer and his children are sixth-generation officers. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 22, 2018 9:05 am

QUINCY -- Maj. Andy Miller Jr. is a fifth-generation Salvation Army officer, but his journey into the position was winding.

Sharing the name of his father -- someone you never forgot when you met him and who never forgot you, Miller said -- came with its own kind of pressure. Miller Sr. was nationally known for his work with the Salvation Army, reaching the rank of national commander before retiring. Many assumed Miller Jr. would follow in his father's footsteps and receive a coveted appointment in the Salvation Army by value of his name. That was not entirely the case.

"In my own heart, I was fighting that calling," Miller said. "I wanted to do something in sports or music, or I wanted to be a radio announcer."

Miller, 64, grew up in Cincinnati, before his father was appointed to a position in Montclair, N.J. His family traces its roots with the Salvation Army to 1880s London, when his great-great-grandfather, Fred Miller, joined the organization less than two decades after it began.

Until his junior year at Asbury University -- then Asbury College -- in Wilmore, Ky., Miller was convinced that his future included something other than the Salvation Army. He went to college to be a music or math major. Around that time, he felt a calling from God for him to join the Salvation Army.

Everything seemed to line up when he met Cheryl Thompkins, the woman that would become his wife, at Asbury.

"One of the only ways to be with her was at the library," he said, noting that once he met her, his GPA almost doubled. "We knew we were going to get married, and we knew we were going to become Salvation Army officers."

The couple enrolled in the Salvation Army's College for Officer Training, the organization's two-year seminary course.

"You live, eat and breathe Salvation Army there," he said.

When they entered their second year, they were sent out for on-the-field training, tasked with reviving a declining Salvation Army unit in Rushville, Ind., a town of 5,800. They spent the appointment, the first of 12, in Rushville from 1977 to 1980.

"It was an awful building," he said. "From November to March, there was no running water or toilet, but I learned that no matter where you are, people have the same basic needs -- the most important one is that they get to know Jesus."

When they entered the community, the Millers were told that if they couldn't right the sinking ship, the unit would close.

"We took that to mean we could do no wrong," Miller said.

The unit in Indiana eventually disbanded after they left the appointment, but they gained some valuable insight during their time there. After several more moves across the Midwest, they landed in Des Plaines, Ill., where they were told to "plant" a new Salvation Army unit.

"We had no idea what we were doing," Miller said. "Des Plaines had never had a Salvation Army Corps."

The couple started visiting with neighbors. As they met more people, the Corps began to grow as well. When they received another appointment and had to leave the community, the city honored them by holding a special Majors Andy and Cheryl Miller Day ceremony.

"It's not us," Miller said, deflecting credit back to God.

Miller has a file cabinet in his home in which he keeps letters -- both thank you's and angry letters go into it. Occasionally, when he starts to feel that he is doing well in his post, he will read the angry letters to humble himself.

After they left Des Plaines, they were stationed with the St. Louis Temple Corps, which is housed in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the country.

"Someone was killed right outside the door," he said, "but the Army itself was a safe haven. We had 2,000 to 3,000 people coming through our doors each week."

Miller remembers an attempted mugging, two weeks before the couple was set to relocate to another city, in which the would-be mugger recognized his voice and left him alone.

The Millers' 12th appointment was at the Kroc Center. They expect that they will finish out their careers in Quincy.

"I'd seen a lot of buildings in the Salvation Army but never a Kroc Center," he said. "When I saw the building for the first time, it was simply remarkable."

The Millers have four children. Each is involved in the ministry of the Salvation Army in some capacity, marking the sixth generation of Millers who have served as Salvation Army officers. His daughter runs the Des Plaines Salvation Army Corps.

The Kroc Center's built-in waterpark has scored him points with his seven grandchildren, he joked.

"You see all the scripture on the walls here," he said. "Through it all, our mission has been the same."

Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.