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In Memory

Donald E. Miller

Donald E. Miller
March 30, 1930 - January 7, 2018


On January 7, 2018 at mid-day noon Donald Earl Miller transitioned peacefully and quietly from his home in Newport Beach, California. Don was born to Olive Maud Lenhart in Youngstown, Ohio in the Florence Crittenden home in 1930 and was adopted by Walter Alvin Miller and Wilma Ivey (Alberty) Miller soon thereafter.  Don grew up in Ferrell, Pennsylvania until junior high school when his family moved to Anaheim, California.  There he attended Anaheim High School and later UCLA, studying English, Music, Math, and Psychology.  Some of his best memories were from his time as a soda jerk at the Jolly Roger on Balboa Island, where he invented and crafted ice cream delicacies to the delight of all. After college he joined the Army and spent several years in Japan during the Korean War working in espionage, rescuing American soldiers from captivity.

When he returned he obtained his teaching credential and began teaching at Costa Mesa High School.  One of his favorite memories of his time teaching was helping his students write and produce their own musical entitled, “An Extraordinary Guy.” Here he would meet his wife, Joan (Drummond), who would be his partner for the next 55 years.  He also became a father to Joan’s three children, Robert Michael, John Christopher and Kathleen Anne and two years later had one child Catherine Lise. After teaching high school, he went on to teach English Literature at Cal State Fullerton for two years.

Eventually he decided to open his own company with partner Ruth Westphal called, “Concept Media.” Together they wrote and produced educational films, along with a faithful team, proving highly successful and also winning many national awards.

His dream however was to open a bookstore, antique store and Art Nouveau themed tea room which lead Don and his wife Joan to move from to Carmel, California.  There they operated several businesses including two restaurants, Rocky Point and the Willow Tea Room.  Together they also delighted in working on writing and publishing their own books.  In time however they decided they missed their roots and the ease of Southern California and returned to Orange County.  Don never finished his novel, but along with wife Joan did write, "Breakfast With God;" with his writing group friends, "Rocky Point Murders;" and finally a compendium of his short stories and memoirs, "Are Ya Having’ Any Fun?"

Don was a true connoisseur of life and delighted in all things related to art, literature, food, music, travel, antiques, and was a notorious tease and a beloved iconoclast to all his friends he loved dearly.  Even after Parkinson’s had taken the majority of his independence and mobility, he reflected that his life was indeed, “perfect.”

A memorial will be held on Sunday, March 4th at noon in Newport Beach.  Those who wish to honor his memory may wish to leave a donation to the ACLU, the Democratic Party, or UCLA depending on your preference.

Published at Legacy.com Memorial Websites

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01/31/18 02:44 PM #1    

Larry Motschenbacher

Following is a note from a long-time friend of Mr. Miller, Steve Turley, retired associate dean of College of Education at CSU Long Beach.  "Former English teacher Don Miller passed away on January 7, 2018 from congestive heart failure and complications of Parkinson's. Mr. Miller taught English, creative writing, and journalism courses while at CMHS. Flowers or a sympathy card may be sent to: The Millers, 2500 Lake Park Lane, Newport Beach, CA 92660. The family suggests a donation to the ACLU, the Democratic Party, or UCLA for those who are so inclined. The family is planning a small, by invitation celebration and remembrance of Mr. Miller."  Larry M.

02/01/18 07:43 AM #2    

Diane Chapman (Swarts)

RIP Mr. Miller....  So strange in all the time I knew him I never knew he was married?. Diane

02/01/18 08:14 AM #3    

Sharon Stanberry (Jones)

Mr. Miller was an inspiration to his students. We never knew he had another life because he was always with his students! An amazing life well lived.


02/02/18 10:17 AM #4    

Doug Hawkinson

Diane Chapman, Interesting you should mention that you didn't know he was married. Shortly after we graduated, I can't remember exactly how long now and mom has passed now so I can't ask, my mother and Don Miller were an item for awhile. There was speculation about marriage, but nothing came of it. And, it faded into the dim fog of history. This was within two years of graduation (maybe 65).

He was a great guy, one of my favorite teachers. However, I think I might have gotten freaked out if he and my mom had gotten married. But, that is only because I was so young.

02/02/18 08:01 PM #5    

Bill Ackerman

​Don had a huge impact on my life, as a teacher, employer, mentor, and friend.  I had him as a teacher in Sophomore and Senior English, and his influence was enough to persuade me to major in English in college.  He had enough confidence in me to hire me in my first job after being discharged from the Army at his company, Concept Media.  Several years ago, I met Don for lunch in Costa Mesa and thanked him for the influence he had on my life, as well as those of many others.  At the time, I didn't know much about Don's background, which I have only recently learned about.  He lived a remarkable life and touched the lives of many of his students and others.  I feel fortunate to have had teachers such as Don, Bill Clarke, Ken Cave, Tom Beaton, Duane Keith, and others.  I think Don can best be described by the title of the musical that his students wrote and produced at Mesa -- "An Extraordinary Guy."  Rest in peace, Don . . .

04/02/18 04:33 PM #6    

Larry Motschenbacher

A  great article by one of our own, Jim Carnett, class of '62

The man who taught me writing was ‘extraordinary’ in every way

If you ever had Don Miller for a teacher, I guarantee you'll not forget him.

I certainly haven't.

A longtime Costa Mesa/Newport Beach resident, Donald E. Miller died last month at the age of 87. He is sorely missed.

I was fortunate to have him as teacher for three different classes – English, journalism and theater production — at Costa Mesa High School, from 1958 through 1962.

He dramatically influenced my life.

While at Mesa High, Don met and married his wife of 55 years, Joan Drummond. He became father to her three children, and Don and Joan had a daughter together, Catherine Lise.

Don was more than just my high school teacher. He was my mentor and friend. He saw something in me as a high school student that, frankly, I didn't see myself. Neither did my parents.

Don taught me the fundamentals of writing – a skill that propelled me through college and fueled my career. I spent 37 years as Orange Coast College's director of community relations.

He appointed me sports editor of Mesa High's school newspaper, the Hitching Post, my sophomore year.

During the 1961-62 academic year, students at Mesa wrote and produced an original musical comedy, "An Extraordinary Guy." Don's creative writing class wrote it, music students penned the score and he directed it.

It ran in late April in Orange Coast College's 1,300-seat Robert B. Moore Theater. It was so successful that a second weekend was hastily added.

The show is about an American high school rife with public school issues of the day (1962), like cliques, acne and raging hormones. Alcohol, drugs and teen pregnancy went unmentioned because, frankly, they weren't yet on anyone's radar.

Don cast me as a lead in the production.


I still wonder.

"You were an introvert," Don told me in 2009 when we met for one of our many latter years' breakfasts at The Galley Cafe in Newport Beach. "But I loved your spirit, and you were willing to take risks."

I could have played the lead character, Herman, without batting an eye. Herman, like myself, was a socially awkward dork with no hope of attracting a girlfriend. The problem was, the character had to sing 10 songs, and I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.

So, Don went against type. He cast me — the dorky introvert — as the second lead, George, an egotistical "chick-magnet." George had one solo that he could belt rather than sing. That worked for me, but how was I to transform myself into "Joe Cool"?

I learned to act.

And I incorporated into my character imitations of some of the cooler dudes in my high school.

After graduating from Mesa in 1962, Don and I lost touch for 45 years, but reconnected in 2007.

I'd been retired from OCC for a year and had just started writing a weekly column for the Pilot. Don saw one of my columns, looked up my phone number and called me.

That was so Don Miller — taking time to find an old friend and offer words of encouragement.

For the next several years Don and I met for breakfast on a regular basis and discussed a multitude of issues. Don had strong opinions, and we didn't always agree, but we were bound by our appreciation for one another and our shared experiences.

Don was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and moved to Anaheim while in junior high school.

He studied English, music, math and psychology at UCLA. Don loved to talk about his summer employment for many years as a soda jerk at the Jolly Roger on Balboa Island — perhaps his favorite gig of all.

My family lived on the Island during that time, and we often ate at "The JR." I'm certain he waited on us.

He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

Don and Joan lived many years in Carmel, where they owned several businesses and two restaurants. They wrote and published a number of books.

Don Miller was truly "An Extraordinary Guy."

By Jim Carnett, Published Feb 5, 2018, Daily Pilot/L.A. Times

04/03/18 09:00 AM #7    

Sharon Stanberry (Jones)

I love Jim’s articles he always captures the essence of the person. Don Millers article was another great one.

Thanks Jim

Sharon Stanberry Jones 

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