In 1998, Dale Miller and his wife attended a meeting to protest the building of a new adult activity center in their neighborhood. Little did he know, nearly 20 years later he would be credited with playing a vital role in the success of that very establishment.

Long-time volunteer Dale Miller poses for a photo
on the patio of the J.O.Y. Center Roswell,
where he has volunteered since its opening in 1998.
Photo by Staci Guy

The proposed site of the new facility, the J.O.Y. Center Roswell, became a topic of debate with residents in nearby neighborhoods and opposition quickly began to grow. Dale remembered, “My wife and I went to an opposition meeting because we didn’t know what it amounted to. We knew it would have a lot of vehicles and stuff, and we didn’t want a parking lot here.” He went on to explain their concern in greater detail: “They were originally going to put it at the dead end and there was no way out except 19th Street, which would have caused traffic problems, but they moved it down here (to its current location on Montana Avenue) and made two outlets.”

As plans for the center progressed, Dale’s contention gave way to excitement. A new senior center in his neighborhood meant that dancing and volunteering would soon become a lot easier since all he would have to do is step out his front door. “I watched and took pictures as the building was being built,” he shared. “When they got pretty well finished they let me come in. I visited with them and learned what they were doing and it changed my perception. After we found out all the activities they would have here, we decided to get on board and support it!”

Executive Director Monica Duran will tell you that Dale Miller does more than just “support” the center, though; he is vital to its day-to-day operations. “I get a kick out of him because I always ask him if he’s ready for a raise,” she quipped of Dale’s tireless volunteer efforts. “He never gives himself enough credit for what he does, and I get that because most volunteers don’t.” She continued, “This place would be so lost without him. We just would. We get locked out and we call Dale; the alarm goes off and he’s the number one contact. The alarm company calls him before they call me! He’s just our lifeline here. He’s so important – just as important as the staff here!”

According to Monica and others on staff at the J.O.Y. Center, it is difficult to quantify Dale’s value. He does everything from unlocking the doors each morning to starting the coffee to yard work and maintenance. During my interview with Dale, I saw first-hand how much he contributes to the center. As he took me on a tour of the facility – which, by the way, Monica told me she would do but Dale beat her to the punch – we passed through the kitchen area a couple of hours after lunch had ended. He showed me how he checks freezer and refrigerator doors to make sure they are sealed and locked properly and how he checks the door that leads from the kitchen outside. As we passed through the kitchen, he stopped mid-sentence as we passed by a dripping faucet. Without missing a beat, he stopped and tightened the faucet to eliminate the dripping. Since it was close to 3:30 in the afternoon at that point, there’s really no telling how long the faucet had been dripping, so suffice it to say, the drip would have likely continued well into the evening if it hadn’t been for Dale. No one asked him to do so and no one other than me saw it happen. It led me to wonder just how many other unnoticed tasks he completes in addition to all of the ones that are acknowledged.

If anyone knows the grounds at the J.O.Y. Center Roswell, it’s Dale Miller. For nearly 18 years, he has spent five days a week at the facility yet has never taken home a paycheck. He even eats lunch at the center every day, but says because he can afford to, he pays for his own meals. With the exception of one employee, he has outlasted every paid staffer at the place and can walk the halls of the facility with his eyes closed. Well, maybe not completely closed, but close. “I’m pretty much the only one that knows everything about this building,” he proclaimed. “I was here from the ground up.” He can recite from memory the dates of each addition to the facility, and he knows precisely which room is used for what purpose, by whom, and on which days. He knows the layout of the sprinkler system, where the fence around the side yard came from and the history of the mosaic-topped bench on the patio. He’s only a volunteer, but he has his own set of keys to the building, and every day around 3:30, he begins the process of checking doors and locking up. “He’s like clockwork,” joked Monica. “When he’s back in the afternoon, we know what time it is!”

While he’s primarily known today for his dedication to the J.O.Y. Center, Dale’s reliability and spirit of self-sacrifice actually predate the center by nearly five decades. “I’ve been volunteering for 67 years,” he reminisced. “I decided to join the [National] Guard when I was 20 years old, and I served for 30 years.” While stationed with the National Guard, he was known to go above and beyond the call of duty. “I’ve just always enjoyed volunteering with different things,” he mused. “It gives me satisfaction.” If you’ve lived in southeastern New Mexico for at least one full year’s worth of seasons, you know how tricky driving conditions get in inclement weather, especially for the other drivers. “When I was with the Guard, they’d call me for snow duty. People would get stranded and I’d rescue people in the snow here in Roswell and the outlying county,” he recalled of his volunteer duties. “It happened quite a bit. And I used to drive the truck and TOW gun in the Eastern New Mexico State Fair parade too. We’d give demonstrations on the gun, showed them how it worked, things like that.” The gun he is referring to is the same device used for launching TOW missiles (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire guided) that can be found sitting outside the Roswell courthouse today, which has since been disabled and permanently fixed to its location. “I used to fire that gun at the courthouse for training,” he divulged. “We’d train to shoot down airplanes and it was used to shoot in the desert at Fort Bliss.”

Dale’s service to the Guard coincided with his tenure with the Roswell Daily Record, where he spent 30 years working as the newspaper’s printer, or pressman. After retiring from the paper and the Guard, he occupied his spare time volunteering at the Roswell Adult and Senior Center near downtown, where he taught dance lessons, did some volunteer maintenance work and enjoyed line dancing with his wife, Jeannine. “We really enjoyed it there, but when they opened this place (the J.O.Y. Center), it was just more convenient for us to come here, so that’s why I started volunteering here instead,” he explained.

And so, for the past 17-plus years, Dale has devoted an incalculable amount of time to volunteer work for the center. When asked why he is so passionate about lending his services, skills and time to the facility, he was quick to reply, “Helping seniors is why I volunteer here! I didn’t realize what all went on until I got involved. I get satisfaction from their smiles and just from knowing I’m helping out.” Fortunately for Dale, his wife shares in his passion for volunteering – she spent 35 years as their church’s volunteer librarian – and is more than understanding with the amount of time he devotes to the center. “She doesn’t complain when they call me in the middle of the night if the alarm goes off or if I have to come over here all the time to fix things. She’s very understanding,” he confessed.

In addition to volunteering at the center every day, Dale serves as the Roswell representative on the board of directors for the J.O.Y. Centers. “He is so humble about his service,” Monica admired. “He is here every day and helps us more than we even realize sometimes. He is vital to what we do here!”

When he’s not volunteering at the J.O.Y. Center, you can catch him square dancing with his wife every Thursday night at the Roswell Adult and Senior Center.

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