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UPHA Sallie B. Wheeler Distinguished Service Award - Misdee Wrigley Miller



Editor’s Note: The following speech was read by Vicki Gillenwater Friday Jan. 8, 2010 at the UPHA/AHHS Convention.

When I was asked to present this year’s UPHA Sallie B. Wheeler Distinguished Service Award, I was truly at a loss for words. I don’t think I am ever at a loss for words.

I did not have the privilege of knowing Sallie Wheeler, but her dedication, contribution, commitment, and horsemanship are legendary and undoubtedly exemplify tonight’s award winner.

I began by asking a friend of Sallie’s his thoughts: ASHA Executive Secretary Alan Balch said: "When those of us who knew her well think of Sallie Wheeler, as we often do, we tend to say to ourselves or others, 'there will never be anyone else who contributes as Sallie did.'

Thankfully, and as Sallie herself would say, that's just not true. Everyone before and since Sallie's day contributes in his or her own way, and Misdee Miller is the latest in a series of distinguished servants of our sport who is as close to Sallie in generosity of spirit and service and support as anyone could possibly be.

With Misdee, as with Sallie, all we can do is shake our heads and wonder how she does it all, let alone how she does it all at such a high level of excellence and accomplishment."

Alan’s words summarize precisely why this award is suited perfectly to Misdee. She has created lasting opportunities for those of us here tonight, and those who will be involved in every facet of the horse industry in the future.

Larry Hodge, trainer of Misdee’s American Saddlebreds described Misdee as "the most well-rounded horse person I have ever worked with. Misdee is always prepared and is a pleasure to work with".

When I went through her archives of accomplishments, I selected a few of what I think are some of her favorite Saddlebreds. She and her horses are winners, but she doesn’t reflect on her horses by victories as much as she does their unique qualities.

CH Our Canary Diamond is the American Saddlebred we have to thank for bringing Misdee to this industry. Grande Gil is the champion who won her heart and the Triple Crown. CH Castledream brought her a World’s Grand Championship and showcases what she loves in a harness horse. And finally, CH Title Bound, who after a leave of absence, showed tremendous heart by coming back to Louisville in his final appearance to wear the roses.

Tolley Graves, director of the American Saddlebred Museum said: "When Misdee chaired the Museum’s 2002 Annual Campaign, she looked us square in the eye and said she would be honored to do so, but she wasn’t going to be just a figurehead - she intended to work. She was true to her word and her efforts established the annual campaign as the Museum’s main fundraising vehicle.

Her expertise in video production has benefited the Museum time and again. In 2004, Misdee was the voiceover for ‘The Spindletop Legacy’. In 2007, she narrated the award winning ‘Out of the Shadows’, a tribute to the Saddlebred industry’s black horsemen. Misdee stepped forward to become a lead donor for the Museum’s current building project: the Showplace for Saddlebreds.

Former ASHA president Mary Anne Cronan summed up her years of service with Misdee by saying: "The many things Misdee does are important things, often unseen, for the people, the horses, and the organizations that are key to the sport. She is always there when there is a need, with graceful determination, in a quiet, unassuming way. Misdee gives her full attention and considerable talents to whatever she takes on, her unselfish dedication is evident at every turn."

Fred Sarver followed by saying: "Misdee defines selfless service. She works hard, never seeking reward for herself". She was awarded the ASHA Lurline Roth Award last year for just these qualities.

Many have seen her drive her gorgeous four-in-hand coach. Her involvement in the world of coaching is at its highest level. A fellow coaching enthusiast once told her that a woman would be president of the World Coaching Club when pigs fly. I hope he doesn’t raise pigs.

The Devon Horse Show is the perfect example of where she gives all of her resources to see that our horse shows continue in the grandest tradition. She donates to the show financially, but takes every horse she can to support the actual show. There has never been a drop of rain that dampens her spirits for the show and her contagious enthusiasm has brought other dedicated supporters.

Actually, if you are a driving a horse or pony in a large hat at Devon, appreciative spectators will shout "Way to go Misdee", even if you are Vicki or Marilyn.

Misdee has recently taken up combined driving, advancing so quickly through the ranks that it is impossible to believe when watching her that she has not participated in combined driving her entire life. It is an equestrian sport that epitomizes skill and attention to detail.

When Misdee married James Miller, a polo player, she picked up polo, along with fishing (I think that is new) and she enjoys her time spent with him. She has also gained super fans, his parents, Ken and Ann Miller.

The coaching world and the Saddlebred industry gained a new enthusiast in James. He shows current WC Heir’s Treasure in harness, and drives his own four-in-hand coach. He played a key role in surprising her here tonight to receive this award.

Misdee and James’ dedication can now be seen as they have focused energy on the Kentucky Horse Park and the 2010 Alltech FEI World Games. Alston Kerr, chairperson of the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation shared: "Misdee has been a true leader on the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation and the Kentucky Horse Park Commission. She sits on the Foundation's Leave A Legacy Gift Cabinet and started our Capital Campaign with the major lead gift. She is the ultimate in understanding that the Kentucky Horse Park is a unique multi-purpose facility and we would not be where we are without her."

John Nicholson, Executive Director of the Kentucky Park said: "Misdee Wrigley Miller is a uniquely wonderful member of the Kentucky Horse Park family. Perhaps no single individual participates in such a diversity of Horse Park activities. Because of James and Misdee Miller's key role in organizing the Lexington Combined Driving Classic, the Kentucky Horse Park has gained positive notoriety within that sport and has helped position the park to successfully host the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games."

James and Misdee's generosity can best be seen in the newly completed Miller Barn which is part of the elegant barn complex. In addition to being a generous benefactor and a highly professional organizer, Misdee is warm, caring and gracious to all she encounters.

Since I have the privilege of giving the award, I get the last word. Misdee has the rare gift of recognizing need and acting on it. Misdee once told me "Vicki, I am so blessed, what kind of person would I be not to share my blessings."

Misdee, we are the ones who are blessed for everything you done for each of us. Congratulations.

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