Letter: A tribute to Willis MillerI’ve been dreading the writing of this letter for over 19 years now. That was when my wife and I and our baby daughter moved here to Hudson. Because of my love for books and history, people here said I needed to meet two men. One was Dick Larsen, and he introduced me to the other, Willis Miller.
By: Steve Anderson, Hudson, Hudson Star-Observer
I’ve been dreading the writing of this letter for over 19 years now. That was when my wife and I and our baby daughter moved here to Hudson. Because of my love for books and history, people here said I needed to meet two men. One was Dick Larsen, and he introduced me to the other, Willis Miller.
The three of us already spoke the same language with regard to books and history, so I was able to join Dick and Willis as friends. But I soon realized that Willis stood out as a man of greater qualities and abilities than I had.
Here was a man that had devoted his life to recording the history of one community. Not that his interests didn’t extend far beyond Hudson, especially as a world traveler. But he had devoted himself to Hudson as a newspaper reporter, columnist, publisher, genealogist, historian, scholar and philanthropist. Indeed he was a gentleman of the old school.
His motivation for all this was his interest in people. After all, that’s what history is all about. It is the (his) story of people. And Willis was a friend to many. His life spanned more than half of the very existence of this community. He knew more about Hudson history — its people, its homes and businesses, its life — than anyone before or since.
Willis understood that history helps explain who we are, both as individuals and as a community.
That’s why he chronicled our history in the newspaper and in his books and articles, and in his unbelievable 200,000-plus card catalogue. But most of all he chronicled our lives and our predecessors’ lives in his head. He had an incredible memory. He was a walking encyclopedia, and we loved him for it. People called upon him every day with questions, and he was our answer man.
Willis wasn’t just some amateur local writer/historian. Speaking as both a bookseller and publisher, I can say that Willis Miller’s historical work will stand the test of time and is of professional quality and scholarly value.
His interest in history reflected his interest in us, his friends, his town, his people. But his lasting contributions, in the form of his research and writings, are his greatest gift to Hudson. His first published history article was in the Minnesota Magazine of History in 1938. When we are all long dead, gone and forgotten, people yet to be born will be reading his writings.
He gave support to individuals, schools, historical societies and libraries throughout his life that will carry on into the future. He donated books and money to places such as Yale, Harvard, St. Olaf, the Wisconsin State Historical Society, the Minnesota State Historical Society, the University of Wisconsin and the St. Croix County Historical Society (which he helped to found).
He may have been small in stature, but he was the biggest man this town ever saw. Willis was like a bridge from Hudson’s present to its past; sort of a living history. What will we do now that he is gone? He was a gift to Hudson.
If a community can be said to have a soul, then Willis was the soul of Hudson. I don’t know anyone that can fill that role now that he’s gone.
But it is as a friend that he will be missed the most. And he was a friend to all and a man of good cheer. Would that each of us could leave behind such a legacy as Willis leaves. When all is said and done, the people of Hudson won’t remember the first mayor of the town or the last mayor. They won’t remember the millionaires or the murderers. But they will remember Willis Harry Miller because his legacy is the history, our history, that he preserved for us.
It was his lasting gift to us — the friends of Willis Miller, past, present and yet to be born.