By Aaron Swaney Herald Writer
OSO — For Larry and Sandy Miller, the property they purchased four years ago along the banks of the Stillaguamish River was a dream they were bringing to life.
“They talked about that property like it was heaven,” said Larry’s stepsister, Kathi Johnson. “They were so happy to be there.”
Over the past four years, the Millers worked tirelessly to build a home there. Larry, 58, a roofer by trade, did much of the work himself with friends and family. He even designed the layout, which included a guesthouse, a garage and an upper level with large windowpanes to maximize the amount of sunlight.
It was meant to be a place to relax as the couple neared retirement, a place that reminded Sandy, 64, of her childhood in Alaska, and gave Larry an opportunity to do some of the things he enjoyed most: building and fishing. Above all, it was to be a place the Millers could host friends and family and enjoy the relationships they’ve built through years of giving to both work and church.
Two weeks shy of moving in, they were spending a Saturday morning putting the final touches on the house when the hill above them gave way. The Millers, along with electrician Ron DeQuillettes, who was also working on the house near C-Post Road in Oso that morning when the mudslide hit, are missing.
“They would go out with their sleeping bags and work on the home,” said Ed Miller, Larry’s father. “They were so close (to being finished). They were already packing things in their condo.
“If anyone deserved a place to rest it was them.”
Since getting married on the last day of the millennium, the Millers worked together in many respects. Besides keeping their marriage strong, both worked to build their roofing brokerage company, Seattle Roof Advisor. Larry ran the material side of the business, while Sandy balanced the books.
“Sandy was the brains of the business,” Ed Miller said, laughing.
The Millers also made a significant and lasting mark on Northshore Christian Church in Mukilteo, volunteering as leaders in two different ministries. The two, who had met doing karaoke, had both put troubles in their past behind them to make their marriage so strong they took over part of the marriage ministry, helping advise other couples. They met with married and engaged couples and counseled them on topics that endanger marriages, like money, alcohol and abuse.
“They would help young couples who were planning on getting married; ask them the tough questions,” said Rob Cizek, executive director at Northshore. “They would help with the type of stuff that young people in love don’t always think about.”
“They were the heart and soul of the marriage ministry,” said Dave Grant, who helped oversee Larry and Sandy as the former head of the marriage ministry at Northshore.
They often used their own marriage as an example. They married later in life and didn’t have to pretend to know the pitfalls.
“The thing about Larry and Sandy is they demonstrated true marriage,” said friend Mark Cercone. “They were a single unit. You would always see them together. They complemented each other so well.”
In 2007, Larry took over part of the men’s ministry at the church. Larry, who was known to carry a sword as a real-life illustration of the verse that compares the Bible to a sword, used his outgoing and straight-forward approach to grow participation in the Chosen To Lead men’s Bible study.
Cercone oversaw Chosen To Lead before Larry and worked hand in hand with him in the years after Larry took it over. To Cercone, Larry was the perfect fit.
“He took it to another level,” Cercone said. “He was passionate, caring, sacrificial. He was the kind of leader who led by example.”
Larry often used his roofing expertise to help people out of a bind. Larry would fix roofs for free or replace them at lower cost for people who couldn’t afford it.
“You’d hear about problems people had with their roof, it needed a patch or something, and the next word out of their mouth would be: Larry Miller,” Cizek said. “Larry would go over and handle it personally. That was just the kind of guy he was.”
The Wednesday after the mudslide, Cercone invited men to come together and pray for not only Larry and Sandy but everyone affected by the mudslide. Seventy-five men showed up, some complete strangers to the Millers. It became a place for the men to grieve and share memories of the couple.
“After that night some men came up to me and said ‘I didn’t know Larry, but I wish I had,’” Cercone said.
“I’m going to miss him so much. The Lord brought us together within this church and we built a friendship that I didn’t know how much I valued until it was gone. I realize now how much of a good friend he was.”
Cercone, his wife, Beth, and their three kids were planning on visiting Larry and Sandy at their new home this summer. Inviting friends from church was one of the main reasons the Millers wanted to build the home in the first place. They planned on the home and the attached guesthouse as being a place for church retreats or for pastors to get away and relax. It was to be a refuge.
“They wanted to share God’s gift with others,” Ed Miller said.
On Sundays, Larry would patrol the pews at Northshore to shake hands with old friends and welcome visitors. While he did he was known to wear a pin adorned with the letters “RUE?,” with the “E” in red so that it read “Are you ready?” It was a way for Larry to spark conversation and let everyone know that he and Sandy were confident, in death, their destination was secure.
“That pin was just Larry letting everyone know that he and Sandy loved Jesus and that they’d be up in heaven with him. That’s the truth,” Cizek said.
A memorial service for Larry and Sandy Miller is scheduled for May 3.