Normalville couple gone, but not forgotten
The memory of a local couple who tragically lost their lives on Thanksgiving Day has inspired those who knew and loved them to keep their mission alive.
Josh Miller, 24, and his new wife, Kristen Miller, 23, had a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day in 2010, when they set off to spend the holiday with Kristen's parents, Chris and Vicki Hammonds of Benton, Ill. But God had other plans for the young couple who lost their lives in a car accident in the early morning hours of that day on I-70 near Washington, Pa.
The couple had been married only six short months before and had settled in Josh's hometown of Normalville. The graduates of Indiana Bible College of Indianapolis, Ind., were serving as youth pastors of the Church of Jesus Christ A Better Life where Josh Miller's father, the Rev. Ralph Miller, is minister.
“I think he (Josh) eventually would have become a pastor. He was very people-oriented and loved his students and prayed for them. He was very involved in their lives,” Miller said. “Kristen had been here for six months working by his side. She was a very talented girl with a degree in early childhood education. She helped teach the young children in the church.”
Right up to the day of his death, Josh had been hard at work trying to create a park for the children and families of the church and of Hawkins Hallow where the church is located along Foxburg Road.
“It has been a real test to stay thankful,” Miller said. “It was such a great tragedy. Through this, my mind has changed as to what a blessing truly is. I can't be thankful for the common things that people are thankful for at Thanksgiving. As a minister and a church, this has pushed us to look for the blessings in other places people can't normally find them.”
Miller said the thing that has helped him the most through the tragedy was a recording of the final sermon his son preached at the church titled “The Storms of Life.” During the sermon, the young man talked of how he dealt with the death of his mother, Linda Miller, at the age of 44.
“The message he preached here that day, he was telling us how to handle his death and not to blame God,” Miller said. “If the ‘Storms of Life' never happen we would be so content here we would just go on very easily and never get to the purpose that God has put us here for. These are the blessings of God, because it allows us to like this world less and long for the eternal life of God.”
Miller admits that dealing with the couples' passing is a daily struggle.
“It is still very hard. You have to fight. It is not any easy thing, but what are the results if you don't? You would just end up bitter,” he said. “I try to teach others that you have to look for the blessings. If my life is going to be an example, I want it to be that.”
Although the couple may be gone from this world, their lives are still making a difference.
After their death, a movement began to create a scholarship in memory of the couple.
Also, before his passing, Josh had worked at Scott Electric in Greensburg. Each year since the accident, the company has taken a collection in honor of the couple.
“They have been wonderful friends who have not forgotten,” Miller said.
Another friend of Josh's, Jon Kinieriem of North Carolina, formerly of Somerset, created a website — www.themillermemorial.com — honoring the couple where people can make donations to the scholarship fund. The church is also a big supporter of the scholarship fund.
The scholarship has been designed to go to the couple's alma mater to a student who wants to dedicate their life to the ministry, especially one who would play a supportive role to the pastor.
“We were able to support our first student in the fall of this year and we are hoping to support many more,” Miller said.
The $1,500 scholarship was awarded to Adrian Hunter of Trafalgar, Ind. Hunter is a freshman at Indiana Bible College, majoring in worship studies.
“Honestly, the scholarship was a huge blessing for me and my family because I have a twin sister, so my parents were paying for two of us to go to college at the same time,” Hunter said. “When I got the e-mail saying I was awarded the scholarship, it said that the answers to my questions reflected the heart and spirit of Josh and Kristen. I did not know them personally, so that means a lot to me. I feel like I am able to carry on their work.”
The congregation and the couple's loved ones also are making sure their dream of a park for children and their families becomes a reality.
“This meant a lot to Josh as a way to uplift the community and to help make it better,” said best friend Sam Schell, owner of Quality Lawn Care Service of Champion who was working on the park with Josh. “He wanted it to be a place where the community can come spend time in a nice, safe, peaceful environment.”
After the couple's death, Schell, who is not a member of the church, has continued to work on the park, which is on property owned by the church.
“I continued on with it because my word is my word and just because he isn't here does not mean I should not keep my word. That is the way he was. If he said he was going to do something he did it. He was a man of his word. That's why we got along,” Schell said.
Prior to the couple's passing, the park consisted of a half-acre of ground. The church was able to purchase an additional half-acre, which is in the process of being cleared and leveled. The church plans to add a picnic area and possibly a multi-purpose field if they are donated or able to acquire more of the vacant land that surrounds it.
“Because of the high crime rate here in Hawkins Hollow, there are not any playgrounds or sports fields for the children of this area. We would like to provide a family environment to build family ties and traditional values within the community,” Miller said.
Those who would like to make a donation to the scholarship fund or the park can do so on the website www.themillermemorial.com or mail to CJC A Better Life, 233 Millertown Rd., Normalville, PA 15469.
Linda Harkcom is a freelance writer.