Icon inspired UW-W romance

By Kimberly Wethal

March 30, 2016

Head baseball coach John Vodenlich is married to his wife today, he said, because of late former coach James “Mills” B. Miller III.

“He introduced me to my wife – he forced her to go out with me,” Vodenlich said. “He loved my children, loved [my daughter] Emma, always asked her how she was doing. He loved [my son] Sam, who was our bat boy for a long, long time.”

Vodenlich, along with other family, friends and coworkers, spoke at a memorial service on March 15 honoring Miller’s life. The memorial service, filled with purple-clad family, friends, faculty and current and former UW-W athletes, was held in the Kris Russell Volleyball Arena.

Miller died at his home on March 9.

Miller was the head baseball coach at UW-Whitewater for 17 years, achieving a school record 416 wins throughout his tenure. He worked in a variety of roles in the athletic department from the time he was hired in 1969, five years after earning his bachelor’s degree in education from the university.

During his time as head coach, the Warhawks made seven appearances at the NCAA Division III play-offs from the years of 1989 to 2003.

Following his last trip the playoffs, Miller was inducted into the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association (WBCA) Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the UW-W Athletic Hall of Fame four years later in 2007.

Miller was named the WBCA College Coach of the Year, and Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, three times each in his career.

In 2009, the UW System Board of Regents approved the naming of UW-W’s current baseball field in his honor.

Miller spoke as the commencement speaker for the Fall 2014 graduation ceremony.

“My formula for success is: establish a set of goals for yourself, and you’ve already reached one of the most important ones,” Miller had said during his commencement speech. “Have a plan, don’t be afraid to take chances along the way, stay the course and stick with it until the goal has been accomplished.”

Former head football coach Bob Berezowitz spoke at the memorial on behalf of all of the coaches who had worked with Miller at UW-W.

Berezowitz had helped Miller out in 1989 by agreeing to serve as the assistant baseball coach while still working with the football program.

Miller and Berezowitz had attended UW-W in the early 1960s together, and had become friends through their fraternity.

“He was more than a coworker to me,” Berezowitz said. “I consider him one of my closest friends … he was definitely Mr. Warhawk, always wearing his purple and white.”

Berezowitz said “the most important thing” to Miller during his tenure at UW-W had always been student success, no matter who they were.

“It didn’t matter to him whether you were a student in his class or a student in another sport, he treated them all with the same attention,” Berezowitz said.

The legacy Vodenlich will remember of Miller was the way he made his athletes feel like a part of a family.

“I don’t know if there’s anyone who’s ever played for him or coached with him that didn’t feel a part of his family,” Vodenlich said. “There’s a lot of us that coached baseball, but there’s really only one father of Warhawk baseball, and that’s Mills. He made us all feel apart of it.”

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