ESCANABA - It was nearly 20 years ago when I first met this guy. He rode what was then called a "power base", a racier model of a motorized wheelchair.
His name was Bob Miller, who just happened to be a quadriplegic.
It was easy to like him from the first meeting and a challenge to keep up with him as he sped across town, a seemingly very busy individual.
Bob Miller bagged this wild turkey while on an expedition with the Wheelin Sportsmen. Hunting gave Miller an outlet after his injury.
Back then I was a medical equipment technician and serviced power bases. Bob was pretty rough on his machine and I kept spare parts on hand just to assure his down time was minimal.
Most often he needed a quick change on a set of front wheel bearings and we developed a system that had him in and out of the shop with a speed similar to being in the pits at the Indy 500.
One time, after receiving a complete new replacement, I begged him to, "Please take it easy on this one Miller. It has to last you a while!"
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.
The next time I saw him was in the winter and he was using his power base to push a car that was stuck in the snow.
That's the kind of guy Bob Miller was.
In time I grew to know him better and finally got comfortable enough to ask him how he became paralyzed. It was then I would forever have respect and admiration for the man.
Prior to his accident, Bob and his friends were a little notorious. They raced their three and four wheelers around town, and spent a lot of time in the woods.
As I recall, he told me that while camping, he left one morning for a ride and never returned. He was later found by his friends after crashing his machine, and was forever changed physically. Mentally, he was and always remained one of the toughest people I've ever known.
Bob used to work part time at Elmer's County Market in Escanaba, and spent half of his time meeting and greeting store patrons. I believe that's where he became to be known as "The Socializer." He even had business cards printed with that title.
As time moved on, I started teaching hunter and ATV safety classes as a volunteer. Miller offered to come and talk with my ATV students several times and one day he had a profound impact on two boys.
These two rascals had been disruptive since the start and were close to being asked to have their parents come and pick them up. Once Bob arrived, and within minutes of beginning his presentation, you could have heard a pin drop in the room.
Every kid, especially the two rascals, was wide eyed and attentive to this guy who slowly rode back and forth before them, telling the story of his personal tragedy.
He began his talk by reciting the years, months, weeks, days and hours since being injured and relying on a chair for mobility. He went on to instill the need to use good judgment every time they were going to ride because things could change in a split second, like they did for him.
Bob longed to return to the days when he could be outdoors and doing the things for which he had a passion, like hunting. It wasn't until he went to an event and by luck of the draw won a gun that made him realize it could happen.
What really solidified the concept was meeting up with a guy who would become one of his best friends and allies, Ken Buchholtz.
As a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation in a local chapter, the Bay de Noc Gobblers, Buchholtz took information about their program for people with disabilities called "Wheelin' Sportsmen", and joined several colleagues to develop a full program that would enable paralyzed hunters a chance to take game by firearm.
Although primitive by today's standards, the device they first developed filled the bill and evolved over the next few years to what is considered today as the state of the art system. Guys like the late Mickey Salmon (a paraplegic) and Joe Wellman, along with support from some local businesses, helped make it happen.
Eventually a portable hunting blind was built by shop class students taught by Bob Benson at the Intermediate School District and equipped with new era electronics that viewed, aimed and fired a gun. It was modified to accommodate Wheelin' hunters and heated.
Guys like Tom Wellman, Barry Gasman, Jerome Bowden and Bill Prebish along with many other volunteers made their time available to get the hunters out.
Today the Wheelin Sportsmen Program is expanding with more units and beyond the UP and the State of Michigan. Interest from other states has started coming in as the news has spread.
It was Bob Miller who offered himself as the "guinea pig" to get it started.
Bob died last week. Just like that, he died. His body could no longer do what he wanted it to do and illness took over and eventually took him. His body is gone but his spirit lives and will be carried forward in an ever growing way through the Wheelin Sportsmen.
The Bay de Noc Gobblers will also initiate an annual scholarship in the names of Bob Miller and Mickey Salmon that will go to a student working for a degree in a related field.
Bob Miller got through his troubles by letting God guide him through the rough times, inspiring him to achieve. He inspired others with his incredible want to get it done.
Thanks for the lesson on life. See you around Miller.