In Memoriam: James (Jim) Miller Contributes 30 Years to Operations Challenge

January 18, 2019

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At WEFTEC 2017, James “Jim” E. Miller poses to recreate a similar image of Miller from the first Operations Challenge competition in 1988. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

At WEFTEC 2017, James “Jim” E. Miller poses to recreate a similar image of Miller from the first Operations Challenge competition in 1988. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

James “Jim” E. Miller, a member of the Water Environment Federation and Central States Water Environment Association (CSWEA) since 1977, died May 21, 2018, at the age of 62. Miller most recently had worked as a senior water and wastewater specialist and trainer at Wenck Associates Inc. (Maple Plain, Minn.).

“Jim had been in the wastewater industry for 46 years and had an experience and story for most questions I could ever ask him,” said Minnesota Section Chair Peter Daniels in the CSWEA magazine article, “The Evolution of CSWEA.”

Colleagues relied on Miller not only as a source of knowledge in the water sector, but also as a mentor and proponent for operators.

Blazing a trail for the next generation

Miller, back row, third from left, stands with team members and supporters of the Shovelers, an Operations Challenge team from the Central States Water Environment Association. The group celebrates the team's receipt of the spirit award for best fan support at Operations Challenge 2016. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

Miller, back row, third from left, stands with team members and supporters of the Shovelers, an Operations Challenge team from the Central States Water Environment Association. The group celebrates the team’s receipt of the spirit award for best fan support at Operations Challenge 2016. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

“Jim deeply cared about the people that do these jobs,” said Kelley Janes, project manager at AE2S (Grand Forks, N.D.). “He always wanted to know how we could better prepare operators for what they were facing in an ever-changing and challenging job. … His commitment to us blazed a trail. It’s up to all of us to step up and carry on what Jim selflessly championed for so many years.”

Pat Oates, special projects manager at the Metropolitan Council Environmental Services (St. Paul, Minn.), remembers attending his first professional conference where Miller introduced himself and took Oates around to meet others in the sector. “I have always appreciated that show of kindness,” Oates said. “Jim was first and foremost a devoted family man and we will remember the stories he told.”

Sharing 30 years of Operations Challenge experience

Miller competes in the Maintenance Event at the very first Operations Challenge competition in 1988. Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) photo.

Miller competes in the Maintenance Event at the very first Operations Challenge competition in 1988. Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) photo.

Many WEF members remember Miller’s involvement in Operations Challenge. He began participating in the national competition the first year it was held in 1988. After 4 years as a competitor, he moved into the role of coach for the CSWEA through 2017. “He was our Operations Challenge veteran for 30 years,” said Chris Lefebvre, member of the Central States Water Environment Association team, the Pumpers.

Miller coached Lefebvre for almost 6 years; he also coached Lefebvre’s father, who competed on a CSWEA team years earlier. “[Jim] really liked being able to mentor people. He loved the ability to come in and train four to six new people every year,” Lefebvre said. Read more about Miller’s contributions to Operations Challenge in the WE&T article, “Perfect attendance: Dave Vogel, Jim Miller hit 30 competitions and counting.”

Miller also offered a wealth of information about the sector. “He lived the field,” Lefebvre said. “Everything he did, he was thinking water and wastewater, no matter where he was.” Miller would share insights about wastewater treatment processes and recommendations about technology and equipment with Lefebvre who manages a municipal treatment facility.

Serving as a resource for the sector

Bruce Nelson, executive director of the Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District (Minn.), had an opportunity to gain insight from Miller last April. He remembers Miller’s “agreeable and upbeat” personality and appreciates Miller’s recommendations for improvements to further optimize his facility’s process control.

Miller (right) coached the Shovelers team at WEFTEC 2016. In Division 2, the team received second place in the Process Control Event (award pictured) and third place in the Laboratory Event. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

Miller (right) coached the Shovelers team at WEFTEC 2016. In Division 2, the team received second place in the Process Control Event (award pictured) and third place in the Laboratory Event. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

Dianne Mathews, senior engineer at Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (Duluth, Minn.), describes Miller as a “great resource” for when she began chairing the CSWEA Collection Systems Committee. He compared the role to a “skipper” that is “steering a big ship” and directing everyone else’s efforts to achieve success, she said.

Miller also served other sector organizations in such roles as secretary/treasurer of the Minnesota Wastewater Operators Association and life member and judge of the Operators’ Competition for the Wisconsin Wastewater Operators’ Association (Baraboo).

Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

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