A true free agent legacy, Ray Miller 1913-2010

November 19, 2010 | 63 comments. | Comment on this post

I just returned from my Grandpa's funeral, Ray F Miller.  He was 97 years old and finally breathed his last breath. They say the 'F' in his middle initial didn't really stand for anything, so everyone joked that it was for 'farmer,' which he was.

I've always viewed farming as the ultimate roots of free agency. You own your land, you raise crops or animals, you stay close to home and have lunch in the afternoon with your family. You work as hard as you can and depend on neighbors for help in times of trouble, and rely on the Lord for rain and to hold off the frost. You truly reap what you sow.

It wasn't till this funeral that I realized what an astute businessman Grandpa was. After growing up on a farm and learning the trade, he began his independent life working a farm for a wealthy gentleman in New York. As part of the arrangement the man let him have a stake in the cattle, till ultimately Grandpa owned quite a herd over a decade's time. He was feeding his young family, apprenticing and building assets at the same time. Good man.

At the age of 39 (which interestingly enough, happens to be my current age), he was ordained and accepted a position as pastor of a small church in Johnsville, OH. Pastoring was his heart's desire. His only income from this position was a quarterly 'love offering,' which meant his main sustenance needed to come from elsewhere, like farming. He again worked a farm for another land owner while scouting around to purchase his own place, which he did after just one year. He claimed a house and barn and 96 acres for $13,000 in 1954 (pictured below), full picture posting at my Facebook photo album).


He worked that farm for 20 full years, building an addition on to the house, outfitting the barn with modern dairy equipment, and in 1974 sold it during an abundant time in real estate for a princely $800,000.

Let's think about that a bit. A farm, while providing a home, is a business. In the mid 1900s there were many men who had 'given up the farm' for easier, more consistent income as an employee in various companies that sprung up during the industrial revolution. I can't speak for those men, but if we look back historically we know that companies spent huge amounts of resources on 'company moral' and 'workplace environment.' Why? Because they had taken men used to hard work, self-discipline, the ebb and flow of success and failure (droughts and floods that affected crop yields), community involvement and reliance, family affairs and building personal assets…and sat them behind a desk or a lever in a sterile environment where they were simply paid a check for fulfilling a duty. The same thing, day in and day out.

Men fell into depression and work productivity fell. The companies had to scramble to artificially manufacture personal purpose and relationships and 'meaning' into the workplace. This is very similar to breakfast cereals. People used to eat raw, whole grains and nuts and breads for breakfast. Industry took these 'cereals' and stripped everything good from them, while adding sugar, preservatives and dye. This is where we get 'Fruit Loops' and 'Count Chocula,' God help us. The public gullibly accepted what was put on the store shelves cause it did in fact taste good and the kids clambered for it until the fattened, hyped up kids got the attention of somebody with a brain who said, "Wait a minute, there is no nutritional value in this crap!" So, instead of going back to what was really healthy, they just 'fortified' the cereal with the vitamins and nutrients they had stripped out. The cereal still has too much sugar, preservatives and chemicals, even if it is "Fortified with 8 essential vitamins and iron!" That's like putting frosting on a turd. And we still consume it. Please, for the love of God, yourself and those you love who will have to care for you…buy this book for your health and diet (Food Rules).

The above scenario is still occurring in the workplace today. The easy money "tastes good", but the workplace has to be 'fortified' with "8 essential perks and benefits" in order to keep us there without falling into despair and depression. Though it's not as big a deal today as we've become comfortably numb and don't feel the longings of purpose and meaning as acutely any more.

A reader of mine recently sent me a quote from an article about the slums in Thailand. These cardboard and corrugated metal dwellings all have a blue glow immolating at night. From…TVs. Government supplied. Why? To keep them from rioting. To quell their discontent.

I think you get my point.

So back to my Grandpa. While many were renting their work and at the end of 20 years getting the gold watch for their loyalty, he made a 6,150% increase on his investment. $13,000 to $800,000. He had control over his work so he could do the job as he saw fit, apprentice his kids in work ethic and family and stick close to home, pastor a church and invest his community, and generally decide who he was, what he would do and how he could best serve at any given moment. The outside air, exercise, natural eating and complete fulfillment of purpose kept him active and vibrant and working till he was *85. After my Grandma died and he couldn't do what he wanted, he did decline. Without the ability to fully engage in what his heart and mind were called to, he lost the will to continue. Somewhat unfortunately to him, the lifetime of healthy living kept his body rolling till he was just nipping at a full century old. Pictured below, Ray & Clara Miller – Grandpa & Grandma).


So here you and I are today. Are we working at something that we enjoy? That inspires and invigorates us? Can we work and live as we see fit this very day, or are we merely responding to the dictates of someone else's agenda? Is our work adding up to something for society and our own prosperity, or are we just trading our time to pay for bills and 'stuff,' and in essence renting our lives away? Is it possible to create wealth as an employee? Is work meant to pad our comfort and be as easy as possible, or is that missing the point and it's supposed to have purpose and meaning and value, no matter that it may NOT…be the easiest choice?

I'll let you answer these questions today, as I do, or ponder them aloud in the comments area below.

Agent K Miller
Never, ever…giving up the farm

*Not one to stay idle long, after Grandpa sold the farm he bought the first of many passenger vans and began transporting Amish far and wide. My brother Jared and I always thought that would be a great name for a rock band, "Haulin' Amish." The Amish don't believe in owning cars, yet somehow justified paying my Grandpa to drive them further distances than they could realistically travel with their horses and buggies. He did this till age 85 when he attempted to drive through a flooded stream on the road that carried his van away and nearly drowned him. He accepted then that God wanted him to retire.

  • http://www.themotherlode.wordpress.com Theresa Lode

    Beautiful tribute, Kevin. And much food for thought too.

  • Sutton Parks

    Thanks for the photos and the story of your grandpa. It is neat to see how he changed careers at 39, and was able to start from the ground up, invest, and prosper. Seeing the photos of your whole family shows how his legacy continues.
    My great-grandfather and grandfather ran a milk farm in western Pennsylvania. My dad and most of his brothers went to work in steel mills or automotive plants, working on the assembly line. My dad’s generation was all it took to move from owning your own business, to “get a good job”. Ironically, my dad hated his job! I grew up knowing one thing: I will never work a job I hate. Although I have worked in factories and jobs I hated, thank God something inside me made me quit them.
    Thanks Kevin, for the photos and the story of your grandpa.

  • http://www.jondale.com Jon Dale

    Kevin, your grandfather sounds like a true inspiration. Thanks for sharing his story and inspiring us at the same time.

  • http://www.drdavidpowers.com Dr. David W. Powers

    Amen! And even greater than your grandpa’s personal life is the legacy he left behind. Think about how many folks you, your dad, Ashley, and Jared have affected over the years. Wow! Imagine the taly of lives that he helped change. And now you guys are carrying it into another generation with your own kids.
    Ps. I’ll never look at my bowl of Count Chocula the same again. A turd with frosting? Eww.

  • Michelle

    Excelllent, Kevin. Thank you for sharing your grandfather’s life with us.

  • http://www.nextlevelrunningcoach.com Chuck Schwartz

    Kevin, Thanks for the story. As a history teacher, I have studied the journey of The Greatest Generation and men like your Grandfather. It is inspiring and I have met others who lived this out. I am so glad that you have been able to process his passing to this point and live out your Grandfather’s legacy. You have inspired me to blog about my Grandparents.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Theresa – thank you so much, he was worthy of the tribute, and I really do hope it helps folks ponder…as it has me.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Sutton – thanks for your own testimony here, thats profound to hear
    what happened in your own family, and that you…escaped. Love it.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Jon – he was, and even more now that I took the time to contemplate what he really meant to me.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    David – yeah, pretty daunting to know what we can do with the right
    influence, eh? Thanks for testifying about your cereal, made me laugh
    out loud!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Michelle – its truly…an honor.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Chuck – Ive inspired you to write about your grandparents. For some
    reason that blesses me tremendously. Feels as worthwhile as anything I
    could think of desiring from my sharing. Thank you Chuck.

  • http://www.aldrichdesign.com Dave Aldrich

    Wonderful story and tribute to your Grandpa. Thanks for sharing, Kevin.

  • Christopher Jones

    What an excellent article Kevin. This is very inspiring and motivating. I had to clip the part about slums in Thailand. It made me think of all the people in America who keep up on reality shows wondering why they are still struggling.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Dave – hey, thanks for taking the time to read. That honors me greatly.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Christopher – If I can make just one person quit watching stories on TV
    and start living their own, my life will have been worthwhile.

  • Jim Henry

    Thanks. I knew this post would be a blessing. You’ve done it once again. Thanks for your willingness to share these kind of moments which is what life is all about. Jim

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Jim – that means a lot coming from you brother, thank you.

  • http://www.aaronmkerr.com Aaron

    Thanks for sharing your story and your grandfather with us. Is it too harsh to say the biggest argument against life-long “employment” is the people who’ve been through it?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Aaron – the people who have been lifetime employees are why I do what I
    do. The vast majority are a great sales pitch for free agency, no doubt!

  • http://www.aaronmkerr.com Aaron

    Keep it up Kevin. I don’t mean that people who have been employees all their lives are bad people. They’re good people…which is why they deserve better. How many people do you know who have worked a JOB all their lives and look back on it as a success, filled with adventure and good memories. Maybe those people are out there. But I don’t know them.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a6723ebb970c twitter.com/jameswoosley

    Wow! I feel sorry for anyone who isn’t inspired by this!
    I needed this right now…and will be off to see my grandparents soon.
    Thanks for sharing this with the world. I’m sure your grandfather had no idea the legacy he left and how it continues to grow.
    Blessed by you constantly!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Aaron – the people who have been lifetime employees are why I do what I
    do. The vast majority are a great sales pitch for free agency, no doubt!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    James – man, thank you. I dont know if he did…wish Id have realized before his death, how much his legacy meant to me.

  • http://www.plack.net Anthony Plack

    To Live,
    To Love,
    To Leave a Legacy…
    Your grandfather is still inspiring souls to fulfill their Christ centered mission.
    Thank you for sharing your family with us, it is a true Christmas gift.

  • http://www.7chapters.com Brenda Dunagan

    Kevin, you know I’m a big supporter of what you do and the whole idea of living and working beyond today’s “miserable normalcy”.
    But this article…well this article puts a whole lot of heart behind why you do what you do. And THAT is truly inspirational.

  • http://www.mhguitargear.com Mark Hopkins

    AMEN AMEN AMEN! One of your best posts ever! You are honoring God, your Grandpa, your father, and farmers and true free agents all over the world.
    Talk about hitting the nail on the head.
    Thanks for making my day,

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Brenda – I DO…know you support me and what we are doing here. And it
    blesses me to no end. And the fact that you are helping me spread the
    word, is foundational to our future. Thank you.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Mark – wow. Thank you. This means a lot to me. Testimony I need to write more from my heart than my head.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/freeagentmommy Free Agent Mommy

    Kevin – the part you wrote about how farmers moved into factory or office jobs – reminds me of the book Henry and the Great Society. When Henry got caught up in the culture of materialism and lost the work & life he loved…his life essentially ended. Interesting to ponder also, that for some people, like your Dad, stepping AWAY from the farm was the vital move towards finding his career/life calling. Thus your point to glorify pursuing God’s calling on our lives, not to necessarily glorify farming. Even tho farming embodies the qualities of a Free Agent lifestyle!!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Teri – totally. I'm not about to quit my current work to milk cows
    (yuck) or grow crops (maybe just a garden!). Thank goodness we can build
    businesses from a laptop and don't need a physical farm, eh? So as you
    say…got to each find our own 'farms'

  • Archie Winningham

    And the whole time he was building a legacy for millions of folks he didn’t know. He raised and left behind a son who would have a wonderful family that would make a huge positve impact on me, and the rest of this world. Now THAT… is a Dad, Grandpa &… “GREAT” Grandpa!
    God bless you and your family Kevin. Thanks for sharing this awesome tribute, and, for being a genuine friend and mentor to many.

  • Jeff Batson

    Thank you for sharing this with us all Kevin. What a wonderful and inspiring story and legacy. I am inspired by this to the point that I am now even more determined to find a way to get my finances stabilized quickly, so I can continue my free agent pursuit. Thank you Kevin, You are awesome!
    God bless you!!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Jeff – I'm just stoked it had value for you…truly.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Archie – man, you just humble me with your encouragement. Thank you for being an inspiration to me.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a639a08b970b Deb Ingino ~ My Wired Style

    Kevin What a great tribute to both your Grandpa, Free Agency and all those who endeavor to it.
    Your words like his journey are an inspiration.
    Blessed by it all!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/lukasavige Justin Lukasavige

    What a guy! I never get old of hearing stories like these, Kevin. I can see where you get it.

  • Jill

    Wow, amazing tribute! A true legacy indeed! There probably were some who read this and were offended. Oh well. As for me, now I really want to leave the cubicle farm. Got to get on that…
    Thank you.

  • http://48Days.com Joanne Miller

    Kevin, Your Dad and I were so thrilled all our kids were there for Grandpa’s funeral and shared with everyone the impact he had on each of your lives. Amazing to think what world changers came from the union of two people…..Grandma and Grandpa. We are proud of you and what you are doing and Grandpa would be too. Love you bunches……Mom

  • Jason Garey

    Kevin, thank you for the profound share and history lesson all rolled into one. I’m sorry for your loss, but encouraged by how much you have gained by his life, as well as your grandmother’s. You are a living and breathing legacy.
    Two men that impacted my life greatly were my own Grandfather, who died in ’91 at 91 and my wife’s Grandpa, who recently passed at 95. They were both simple men who never met and in many ways lived worlds apart. My Grampa, a Mexican immigrant who came here at 11 yrs old expecting nothing, but hoping for opportunity from the great land that he recognized God’s hand had moved mightily in. He never learned to read, write or drive a car, but worked two jobs and single-handedly raised five amazing children. He eventually became a U.S. citizen and cried at the sound of the Star Spangled banner (as do I).
    My wife’s Grampa was a very learned and gentle man, who never met a stranger. Both men took little for granted and, in the end, wisely understood that faith, family and freedom were, above all, the most important things in life. God bless you.

  • http://RaisingCEOKids.com Sarah Cook

    What an amazing story and such rich legacy!

  • Janet Howard

    Kevin, So many reactions already by the time I read this, still wanted to write in and say thank you for sharing the story of your Grandpa. You’ve inspired us with this story. Better yet, we now have this heartfelt story to hold us accountable. What am I growing? How is my life using the gifts God has given me? Where am I making a difference? Your Grandpa’s story has me thinking again. I did need this “kick-start, inspiration, jumpstart.” Hmmm, lots more to think about. Thanks for writing from the heart, Kevin. Am sorry for your loss, but so blessed to hear about your Grandpa. God bless you and your family.

  • mountainrose2@hotmail.com

    Kevin, the folks (people) are your farm. However, when we all contribute, the farm becomes a very large association of farmers who share their ideas and successes, as well as the failures and what does not work. Rose

  • http://www.48Days.net Dan Miller

    Kevin, the rich family memories that were triggered this week at Grandpa’s funeral probably made us all look at the lives we are living. And yes, farming is the ultimate “free agency” in that it requires (or allows) all the things we do in business today. Instead of a John Deere you use a Mac and instead of cows you have “members.” And I suppose our live events are milking time. Writing books or manuals is much like planting corn – we hope that with rain and fertilizer a whole harvest will appear. Thankfully we can claim our stake anywhere we wish and move our “property” at will.
    Thanks for making the effort to be there and for sharing at the church service.

  • http://www.thebootstrapcoach.com Josh Bulloc

    I do not know why but we tend to look at things one dimensionally. Maybe because it is easier. We begin to look at health as just being skinny and we have begun to see work as just a way to pay the bills. The world is more complicated than that and as we become more technologically sophisticated we seem to become less common sense educated. If there feels like there is something more to life than there probably is. Finally, I am sorry for your loss Kevin and you ought to be proud of what your grandfather passed down to you through example.
    Josh Bulloc
    Kansas City, MO
    How can I help?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Deb – thank you so much. I'm just the messenger…

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    That's what Donald Miller was trying to tell us, eh? People relate and are drawn to…good stories.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Jill – If I helped you want to leave the cubicle farm for a farm of your own heart…then I'm fulfilled. Thank you.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Mom – well, you and Dad took up the mantle to continue a legacy. You get
    full credit too. I was so honored to be there. Love you too, Kevin

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Jason – thank you for sharing this. "Both men took little for granted." You may have just given me my inspiration for a Thanksgiving blog. Seriously. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Sarah – hey, thank you for highlighting and advocating our next generation of legacy makers. And thanks for honoring me by reading my blog.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Janet – thanks so much for this. What you said, "How is my
    life using the gifts God has given me?" I just don't think we as a
    society dwell on this as a reality. We act as if we are just fulfillers
    of roles. We've forgotten, or no longer believe, we really have anything
    special to give and offer. We just put in our time and see what we can
    accumulate, eh? Makes me think of my kids. It's easy to be a father. I'm
    that just by helping conceive that. But it's work to be and
    remain…their Daddy. In life, it's not so hard to get by, put in our
    time, pay the bills, etc… It's hard work to leave a legacy. Thanks for
    making me think more about it Janet.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Rose – absolutely. I like the idea of a co-op. Or a commune, but that would really scare folks I think….

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Dad – you may very well be the first person to compare a John Deere to a
    Mac. That's probably newsworthy. Yeah, I romanticize farming, no doubt.
    Though waking before dawn depresses me. As do domesticated animals. So
    I'm appreciating my laptop for sure. Hey, I was so honored to be there.
    Thank you, my Father…for endeavoring to create a legacy, and not just
    put in your time. I…my wife…and the seven children I've given
    you…thank you.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Josh – wow. What you wrote is really profound and right on. I might use that in a blog. Thank you so much.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/meganeburns MeganEBurns

    Kevin, what a great tribute to your grandfather and such inspiration to us towards free agency. When you are moved by heart and passion, what a full and rich life you can live. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Megan – What you said here, "When you are moved by heart and passion." Amen. Moved…and act on.

  • http://www.thebootstrapcoach.com Josh Bulloc

    Please do use it, I am glad I can help.

  • William Waszak

    I’m sorry for your loss. What a great life your Grandfather lived, and what a tremendous inspiration for us! Thank you for sharing his story.
    I’ve always thought farming must be the one of the greatest forms of self employment. You work very hard, but have purpose and fulfillment.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a6723ebb970c twitter.com/jameswoosley

    Dan Miller just called me a cow! At least I’m a free range cow! :)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    He did now, didn't he…

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1240725234s1967 Kevin Miller

    Will – thanks for this. Yes, sure is good inspiration to see how much we can (or can't) impact lives by how we live.

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