Clowning around: Corky Miller’s path to 33 years 
in teaching is an unusual one

Corky Miller created this underwater ocean scene at the pool at Orchard Mesa Middle School. His largest project to date was the underwater scene painted on the walls of the Orchard Mesa pool.



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Corky Miller created this underwater ocean scene at the pool at Orchard Mesa Middle School. His largest project to date was the underwater scene painted on the walls of the Orchard Mesa pool.

Corky Miller painting a mural at Messiah Lutheran Church and School.



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Corky Miller painting a mural at Messiah Lutheran Church and School.

Corky Miller with his mural at the pool at Orchard Mesa Middle School.



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Corky Miller with his mural at the pool at Orchard Mesa Middle School.

Corky Miller with his mural Water Tiger at Grand Junction High School.



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Corky Miller with his mural Water Tiger at Grand Junction High School.

Corky Miller painting a mural at Messiah Lutheran Church and School.



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Corky Miller painting a mural at Messiah Lutheran Church and School.

QUICKREAD

CORKY MILLER

Age: 62

Years in western Colorado: 33

One thing most people don’t know about me: Miller was nominated as a college All-American soccer athlete at St. John’s College in Winfield, Kansas.



“If I can’t be a rodeo clown, then I might as well be a teacher.”

That’s what Corky Miller was thinking when he set out to find his own way in the world.

“My original plan was to go to rodeo clown college because I could see myself doing that and being good at it,” Miller said.

But, having come from a long line of teachers, his family strongly encouraged him to pursue education instead.

After attending a junior college, he accepted an athletic scholarship to Concordia Teacher’s College in Seward, Nebraska. He completed a teaching degree with minor emphases in his other primary interests, art and physical education.

He also met his wife, Enid.

They started their teaching careers together in a two-room schoolhouse in Sylvan Grove, Kansas. Afterward they moved to Montrose to try farming. Miller worked as a candy chef at Russell Stover Candies to make ends meet.

Then the Millers were asked to help establish the Lutheran Church and School of Messiah in Grand Junction.

“I definitely think that’s where God wanted us,” he said.

At Messiah, Miller was able to extend all of his interests to his students including art, physical education and music.

“We were a pretty good fit for what they needed,” he said.

Miller has been a teacher at the school for 33 years, where he primarily teaches seventh and eighth grades.

He’s best known for using his quick wit and affiliative sense of humor to engage his students.

“There are times when I’ve compared it to being a rodeo clown,” Miller said with a half-joking laugh.

He feels he’s uniquely suited to teach this often difficult age group, and most of his students would agree.

“He’s excellent at relating to his students and building a relationship with them, but at the same time he’s conscious of the distinction between teacher and friend and he makes sure to still be authoritative,” said Carter Brock, currently a senior at Palisade High School.

It was in Miller’s class, Brock said, that he found academic enjoyment and the support he needed to challenge himself. He credits Miller with his success as a student in the high school’s International Baccalaureate program.

Former student Glacia Peck said she didn’t appreciate Miller’s support and effort toward her education until after she became an adult. “As ornery as he can be, he also has an amazing ear. He’s a great listener who really does have a heart for the kids,” she said. 

Miller finds immense satisfaction in helping and watching former students grow into successful adults.

“I take my job seriously but I try not to take myself real seriously,” Miller said.

Although he’s learned to love teaching, Miller still feels the need to express his artistic talents.

He dabbles in painting, glasswork, and creating original board games. He is also trying to master Scherenschnitte, the German artform of cutting paper into complicated designs.

“I find it relaxing, while my wife would find it insanely tedious,” he said.

But, his true artistic passion is for mural painting.

He’s painted many of the familiar murals in the local high schools including the mascot center circles on the gym floors at Fruita Monument, Palisade, Central and Cedaredge high schools.

“(Murals are) a very unique form of artwork,” Miller said while explaining the satisfaction he feels after completing a hard day’s work painting. “You know you’re doing something that’s going to last a while.”

He likes to work with bright acrylic paint to create graphic animals in primary colors. The paintings are bold and eye-catching. The mascots have an aggressive look in their eye.

Miller is especially proud of the mural he completed at Grand Junction High School. He was commissioned by a senior class to create an original artwork that would be presented as a gift to their future classmates.

The school flooded that year, Miller recalled, so it inspired him to create a swimming tiger.

His largest project to date is the underwater scene painted on the walls of the Orchard Mesa pool.

“They wanted something to dress up the inside and something that was connected to water,” Miller said. “I created an underwater ocean scene because that just made sense and could include a lot of detail.”

It took more than three months to finish, even with the help of his sons, Jeremy and Kyle.

It was also a challenge, Miller explained, because humidity and chlorine from the pool could easily shorten the mural’s lifespan, which affected his paint and color choices.

The mural spans every wall in the pool area and features a large whale, bright fish and bubbles, and a coral reef.

There is one thing most likely missing, or at least well-hidden, in Miller’s murals — his signature.

Miller doesn’t sign most of his artwork because he doesn’t paint for recognition, he said.

“It just feels good to know I did that,” he said, “I know I’m doing something that’s going to last awhile.”





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