From Discourse 20
Kite enthusiasts Ron and Marla Miller are passionate about kites and the worldwide kiting community.
In over 25 years of kiting, I have had many opportunities to write about kite personalities as part of my job for the Drachen Foundation. With each opportunity, I have been both charmed and bemused, as I have learned so much more about individuals I thought I already knew.
Such was the case in May, when I drove 45 minutes south from Seattle to visit with Ron and Marla Miller at their home in Tacoma.
I have known Marla and Ron Miller for decades. Through these decades, we have bumped into each other at a number of kite events, and after each encounter I have always thought, “My goodness, that was great, we should spend more time together.”
But our busy lives have always kept us at least 45 minutes apart. I have always known them to be the best of volunteers, never hesitating to assist others, and in the process also taking on some of the most unglamorous of jobs.
Having a reason to interview them, I found their past histories as interesting and charming as their present lives. Both were raised in the logging town of Tacoma, Washington and attended the same public schools where they first took notice of each other. Upon graduating from high school, life took them in different directions, each of them marrying young, and starting families. Marriages came and went (as sometimes they do) and left Ron and Marla single. But a common friend brought them back together and rekindled their relationship, where they became a family, one yours, one mine, and a third together.
Ron’s professional work has been in the construction field. He has made a good livelihood in construction management, working for just one developer, an indication that he is very good at what he does. Marla, wanting to be at home with the kids, figured out her professional path without hesitation. Her stellar people skills led her to the retail industry. She added her love of gardens and flowers. Her garage blossomed into a thriving florist business that she ran out of her own home for over 20 years. This flexible professional lifestyle made it possible for them to raise their children and find an opening for that special personal diversion, kiting.
Growing up in the generation without electronics, they were raised to make their own recreation. And like many children during this time, they made simple paper and wood kites. These simple kite encounters could have been the gateway to their fascination in kiting. Ron remembers as a teen riding off on his bike with his buddies, stripping wood for spars, using newspaper for sails, and flying kites. After marrying Ron, Marla recalls using kite flying as an activity for their small children when they lived in Oregon. And while this is just what many parents do with their young, there always seemed to be more than the ordinary number of encounters with kites.
Enter the big time kiting commitment.
In April of 1991, Marla was introduced to flying by Sonny Kirsch and the Westport Windriders. Sonny came into her shop, and he invited her to meet at the ocean. The meeting was Marla’s first lesson with a stunt kite. It was the classic experience of being pulled down the beach by a stack of Hawaiian SpinOff’s stunt kites. Marla’s eyes were the size of pie pans, and she was hooked. They both knew, “This is it.” The excitement of stunt kiting was just beginning and needed direction, and Marla dove right in. (I want to point out that this is the strength of this couple, doing things together as one, yet also independently.) Marla’s straightforward organizational style, balanced by Ron’s gentle, focused guidance, made her a better organizer. He often said, “Marla, get back to the point, you have moved off course,” and Marla responded just like a boat that had veered to port or starboard, and the rudder is moved to bring her back on course. This is a rare and completely symbiotic relationship!
Through the years, Ron found the time to make kites. He experienced making kites of every style, shape, and flyability. Ron has a wonderful collection of workshop kites that he made himself under the tutelage of famous domestic and international kitemakers. While Ron sewed, Marla continued to make her focus the organizational operations. She dove right in and made sense and dollars out of even the smallest of kite auctions, earning thousands of dollars for the American Kitefliers Association (AKA), World Kite Museum, and the Fort Worden Kitemakers Conference. She was one of the first raffle chairs to develop a “no one is a loser” kite auction. After years of watching only those who had deep pockets making large bids to win the best of kites, she enacted a system to even the auction playing field where even the lowest of bidders could be winners. Instead of bidding, she added, in conjunction with kite auctions, a low-cost raffle. You could purchase tickets for 25 cents per ticket (four for a dollar) and drop your tickets into the bag next to the item to be raffled. If your ticket was picked, you could walk away with a $1,000 kite for the price of a 25 cent raffle ticket. It turned out that even with tickets at low cost, the auction/raffle actually made more money, as more people participated and bought more tickets to improve their chances of winning. Brilliant! In this and other activities, she was the perennial volunteer. Even today, she represents the AKA at international venues in both France and England. She is on the board of the AKA, and assisting the 2015 Enid, Oklahoma AKA Convention chairperson, so don’t miss it! She is also assisting the governing body of the AKA, bringing in good strong board members and charting a course of development to bring the membership numbers up.
Ron continues to study various contemporary approaches to kitemaking and is working on a large piece inspired by Scott Skinner.
Together they have brought the world of kiting not only to the United States, but to their own living room. There are over 250 flyable kites in their contemporary kite collection alone, many are gifts from the international visitors they have housed. They have never turned away a kitemaker and have hosted visitors from around the globe. They shuttle them from the airport, to the flying field, to their home for the night, before returning them to the airport to go home. Their home is the perfect example of good design for a large collection and is one of the best displayed. Ron’s years of construction experience show in the many displays for their eclectic collection of kite- related artifacts. Every corner of their home exhibits a kite or kite-like object, which documents their participation and passion for kites. There are kite items that are noteworthy “just because it caught my eye on that particular day, so I bought it to put in the collection.” There are objects of kiting humor, not true functional kites, but those which reflected a kiting joke or pun. There is the famed Nick Parks character of Wallace and Grommit flying a kite, along with Snoopy and many others. There are ceramics formed into kite-like objects. There are collections of kite poster artwork, original drawings, paintings, and prints. I was fascinated by the care given to each item, each finding a place. Each artifact is precious, each one had a story and a special place in their hearts, minds, and home. To visit the Millers’ home in Tacoma is a great honor and unique experience.
I realize there are many, many kite enthusiasts in the world much like Ron and Marla Miller, but what makes them stand out is their passionate connection to people. It was Ron and Marla who became close to the miniature kite artist Charlie Sotich of Chicago, and that closeness lasted until Charlie’s final days. Marla saw the genius in Charlie and filed his days with the kiting he loved. Charlie had no children and outlived his brothers and sisters. Ron and Marla became his family, making sure that he had a purposeful life until he passed away. That is the gift of Ron and Marla, the gift of a purposeful life through kites. Even now that Charlie is gone, he lives on as Ron and Marla help with the Thank You Charlie Program.
To be a part of Ron, Marla, and Charlie’s work, donate to the Thank You Charlie Program on the AKA website: http://kite.org/education/thank-you-charlie-program ◆