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Having a barbershop on a main street, like Del's Tonsorial Parlor and Barbershop in downtown Golden, is part of what makes a small town a small town, said Goldenite Bill Robie.
Visits to the barbershop “turned into a social experience more than anything else,” Robie said. “That's why Del (Miller) had so many friends in Golden.”
Delmer R. Miller of Lakewood died on April 5 from a traumatic brain injury sustained from a fall on March 24, the day after his 89th birthday.
Along with being a longtime barber, Miller was a man of faith and a dedicated family man, an ambassador for the Golden Chamber of Commerce, an avid Broncos and Rockies fan and a singer with a passion for the outdoors and staying fit.
“My dad oozed goodness from every pore of his body,” daughter Julie Clauson said. “He was so social (and) he was passionate about anything that has a lot of spirit.”
Miller bought Del's Tonsorial Parlor and Barbershop in 1954 when it was across the street from its current location. He moved it to 1210 Washington Ave. in the early 1970s and at that time, also started serving women. In the mid-1990s, Robie and his wife bought it from Miller and their daughter, Barb Robie, who was hired on by Miller just prior, has managed it since. Two years ago, Barb Robie purchased it from her parents.
Miller “was done with owning it,” Barb Robie said, and Bill Robie added that “he just wanted to enjoy cutting hair.”
Although Miller had intentions to work for the Robies for only one year after they had purchased the shop, he ended up retiring 10 years later — having done the trade for 49 years.
Barb Robie has fond memories of staying late after the shop closed to train with Miller.
“He took me in right out of beauty college,” she said. “Without him, I wouldn't be the barber that I am today. He taught me all the tricks of the trade.”
Miller taught her how to do all the styles from the 1950s and 60s — flat tops, high and tights, Princetons, etc., she said.
“He put so much pride in his customers,” Miller's son Tim Miller said. “He had so much respect for the people who came in to use his services (and) he made sure they received the best.”
Del Miller was born in Marion, South Dakota, in March of 1929 and worked on the family farm until he graduated from high school. He attended Freeman Junior College and majored in music. He found his way to Sioux Falls where he opened a bakery named Delmer's Doughnut Bar.
Because he was raised Mennonite, Miller served the country as a conscientious objector. This brought him to Colorado where he worked in the psychiatric ward at Denver General Hospital. One day, he was asked to cut the patients' hair and, even without having any training in it, he found that he enjoyed it. So, Miller and pursued his formal training at Emily Griffith Opportunity school and became a barber.
It was at about this time when Miller met the love of his life Ruth Eigsti. They married after six months of courtship on June 25, 1955.
Miller didn't have a lot of money to take her out, so most of their dates had to be free or inexpensive, Clauson said. She recalled her parents telling her of a time that Miller rented a row boat and took Ruth out on a small lake in Denver while he played the ukulele and sang to her.
He always helped out around the house, and, in fact, enjoyed cleaning, Tim Miller said. He catered to his wife's every need, Tim Miller added.
Del and Ruth were married for nearly 63 years. They raised two children, Clauson and Tim Miller, and enjoyed four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A favorite activity for the Millers was to go backpacking in Colorado's mountains.
“We'd backpack to a lake and usually, we'd be the only ones out there,” Clauson said. “He always had great spots to go to.”
Miller always planned these trips carefully, Clauson said, because he didn't have a lot of days off, being a business-owner.
But one thing about the backpacking trips, though, is that “he didn't skimp on the food,” Tim Miller said. “It was that German in him.”
The siblings remember catching trout for dinner and enjoying a full-spread breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs — all cooked on an open fire.
Del Miller had four brothers and he starting singing at a young age with his brothers in a quartet called The Miller Boys. They performed all over South Dakota and continued to sing together in adulthood.
“Every time we had a family reunion,” Clauson said, “The Miller Boys would sing together again.”
Miller eventually joined a quartet called The Menno Four, but most recently, for the past 15 years, he sang for the MountainAires chorus and a barbershop quartet called The Grace Notes.
Along with that, because of “his beautiful tenor voice, he was hired to sing at many weddings and funerals,” Clauson said.
Miller attended The Bridge Church at Bear Creek, formerly the Bear Creek Presbyterian Church, in Lakewood for 25 years.
“He served as a Deacon and sang for many years in the choir,” Clauson said. “He read the Word every day, attended a men's Bible study and church faithfully, and volunteered at every opportunity.”
If there were such a title as Primer Ambassador with the Golden Chamber of Commerce, it certainly would have gone to Del Miller, said Megara Pullen, who knew Miller for about 15 years when she became an ambassador with the chamber.
“He was a lovely extrovert. He was never grumpy, or had a bad day, or said an uncharitable word,” Pullen said. “He set an example of professionalism for all of us.”
The chamber's ambassadors reach out to the new members and answer their questions or assist them with any of their chamber-related needs, said Carol Ann Bowles, organizer of the chamber's annual Olde Golden Christmas event, who met Miller in 1992.
“They take them by the hand, and show them the way,” Bowles said. “Del Miller was the face of the chamber. To me, he was an ambassador all the time.”
Miller could be seen at almost every chamber event — from ribbon cuttings and open houses to luncheons and special events. And, Bowles added, he always registered in person for these events simply to say hello or sit and chat to catch up.
Jayne Byle, a former chamber staff member, knew Miller for about 30 years, she said, and estimated that he had been involved with the chamber for at least 30 or 35 years.
“Everybody loved Del, and Del loved everybody,” Byle said. “He always had a smile on his face and was eager to help.”
"Del Miller was a fantastic Goldenite," said Gary Wink, former president and CEO of the Golden Chamber of Commerce. Everybody "just loved him."
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