This will probably go down as one of the toughest columns I've ever written.
I'm writing this a few hours before I leave to attend the funeral of a man who I am proud to call one of my friends.
Mark Miller took his own life last weekend.
He battled bipolar disorder for some time. Last weekend the disorder won.
I take a few moments about every couple of sentences to wipe tears from my eyes because the world, and the youth of the Spencer community especially, are just a little worse off because he is no longer with us.
Some of you may have had encounters with Mark. Perhaps you have some funny story or genuine moment that sticks out in your mind. Maybe your encounter with Mark wasn't a positive experience. I'm sure those who knew him well have a variety of stories offering a broad realm of emotions.
I can only speak for myself, and that's what I'm doing here. I want to share the Mark Miller that I knew.
The Mark Miller I knew had a great love for young people.
I remember when my family first moved here nearly eight years ago. Mark would literally stalk the football stands. He didn't sit at a game, rather he walked from one end of the stands to the other, moving with the ball. He was a good-sized guy, kinda hard to miss. If perhaps he was out of sight, he was never out of earshot. You could hear him screaming and shouting words of encouragement to the eighth grade, freshmen and junior varsity football programs as his son, Jordan, and his teammates played their hearts out.
Never criticism, always praise and encouragement for a great play or strong effort. He wasn't about tearing kids down, but building them up.
His passion for athletes wasn't limited to his son's pursuits. Mark coached young people in a wide variety of sports around the area and made an impact on all those he worked with.
Throughout this week I have talked to multiple parents who had children coached by Mark. I've also spoken to many of the young people who learned from him through various sports. The memories of those moments remain strong for many who were as stunned by his passing as I was. From the many Facebook postings I've read this week talking about Mark, it's easy to see the impact that he had on so many.
From the early days of the Midwest Youth Football League, which began in Spencer with a little more than 60 kids, Mark Miller was there, with founder Bob Schlaeger, coaching and instructing. He demanded a players' best effort, whatever that was. Any extra he got from his players was a bonus in his eyes.
He coached young men and young women, and the lessons were just the same: Work hard. Give it your best. Win humbly. Lose with dignity. Certainly tidbits that should be applied to every aspect of life.
Mark leaves behind a wife and two children. They will carry the memories, the love and the pain as they move forward, forced to adjust to a life with a big hole. My prayers and best wishes are with them. They are strong and will continue, that's what he would have wanted.
Hopefully, those of us who were touched by him throughout his years on this earth will move past the pain of his passing and the obvious unanswerable questions, choosing instead to embrace the little pieces of himself that he left with us.
I will carry his compassion and caring heart for young people with me for the rest of my days. That is the impact he left with me. It will be Mark's legacy when I think of him.
Rest in peace, Mark Miller.