McNeese baseball receives $700k donation from Joe Miller, making his total contribution $1 million in past year
LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Joe T. Miller, a local businessman and civic leader and a well known advocate for baseball in Southwest Louisiana, has donated $700,000 to McNeese athletics for the baseball program, and in addition to the $300,000 he donated last winter for new infield turf, brought his total donation to $1 million that will be used for upgrades to Cowboy Diamond and to the baseball field house.
"Over the years McNeese has been very fortunate to have people step forward and make contributions," said Athletic Director Bruce Hemphill at a press conference on Monday. "Mr. Miller has always been a big supporter of not only McNeese baseball, but McNeese State University as a whole. And I don't think I've met anyone that wasn't coached by him in Little League Baseball."
"He's a very humble man and a very proud person who has been in Southwest Louisiana for a very long time."
"The only reason I'm allowing this contribution to be made public is my hope that this will encourage others to contribute to make McNeese an even greater university," said Miller in a statement. "I feel blessed to be able to invest a part of my lifetime earnings in these endeavors that have meant so much to me."
McNeese head coach Justin Hill said there was a surge of emotions when he first heard of the news.
"There's this level of excitement that we have knowing what's going to be possible, all the things you've been dreaming of," said Hill. "But then there's also this humbleness and humility that you have that somebody of such a humble nature would say that they believe in you and what you're doing, and our program. There are no words for that.
"We are excited. We can't wait to get ready. This was one of those things we didn't even ask for. It was something Mr. Miller came to us about. I was floored."
Last fall, Miller donated $300,000 for the installation of a high-grade artificial turf for the infield and entire foul ball territory. That was the first phase of a three-phase project that Hill has envisioned of an extensive facility upgrade plan.
"We've been in planning meetings with an architect and with Richard Rhoden (McNeese Director of Facilities), and Bruce (Hemphill), and myself and quite a few other people that are interested in the program. We're still in the process of getting prices and how to best use the funds."
Miller has served on the McNeese Foundation Board of Directors since 1972. He has served as president and currently chairs the budget committee and serves on the investment committee. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from McNeese in 2013 and he has also received the Distinguished Service Award from the McNeese Foundation for his support of the university. He was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Honor in 2014.
The plan is to named the facility in honor of Miller.
"That was not his idea," said Hemphill of the naming. "That was something we brought forward to he and his family. He was only interested in it after a little pushing on our part. But it's a process that will have to be approved through the state."
Last November, the initial project included the turf as well as a new entrance court and ticket booth, VIP seating behind home plate, and new fencing around the facility. But Hill says there are some projects that will take priority over others.
"A lot of that has to do with some pricing," said Hill. "We're going to have to pick and choose on some of the things we want to do. There are some absolute things we want to make sure we take care of. We want to enhance not only the fan experience, but also our student-athlete experience. There are some things we need to do that the fans may not see (baseball clubhouse improvements). We want to do some things to not only honor our current players, but to honor our alumni and do some things for our all-Americans and Major Leaguers."
Miller was president of F. Miller and Sons Construction Co. for almost 50 years until 2006. He has also served as president for the State Highway and Heavy Associated General Contractors of America, board member and president of Louisiana Council of Associated General Contractors and director and president of the Lake Charles Associated General Contractors.
He is well known in Southwest Louisiana for his interest and support of baseball. He coached South Lake Charles Little League Baseball for 40 years and was vice president of the Little League for 36 years. Many of his former players have played baseball at McNeese.
Miller has received numerous awards for his community service including the Angel Award for Public Service with area youth by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana and Citizen of the Year by the Chamber Southwest Louisiana.
Miller and his late wife, Meredith, have supported academic programs at McNeese through endowed scholarships and professorships.