LOVE WILL FIND
After 50 years of marriage, an OSU alum thinks his beloved wedding ring is gone forever. He prays he's wrong.
Sept. 23, 2014
OKLAHOMA CITY — The ring is out there somewhere.
It has to be.
But there’s a problem: Tom and Peggy Miller don’t know where. After almost 51 years of marriage, there are few thoughts more sickening.
The Millers — Tom age 72 and Peggy 71 — aren’t the type to get hung up on material items, but Tom’s wedding ring with the wide, white-gold band engraved with two circles and a cross in-between means more than just about everything else the couple owns.
It’s the type of problem that makes Tom’s stomach turn. The kind that caused enough strife for Peggy to work up the nerve to call a student newspaper in a last-ditch effort to recover what they’re all but convinced is gone forever.
The Millers are determined to find this ring, which they’re almost certain slipped off Tom’s finger somewhere near Oklahoma State’s Boone Pickens Stadium.
But even if that item is lost for good, you can find more than enough redeeming qualities in the couple’s downtown Oklahoma City condo.
In a world where it’s all too easy to believe God is dead and love doesn’t exist, the Millers are a bastion for righteousness and faith and love and so many other intangible ideas that are rarer than any precious metal.
Have you found Tom Miller’s wedding ring?
Call Peggy Miller at 405-823-4127
The couple is offering a reward.
AT FIRST SIGHT
It all started when a teenage Tom Miller was flipping through his older sister’s annual from Jones High School.
Tom lived with his family in Spencer, where the children attended middle school, but Spencer didn’t have a high school. That meant families could send their children to whichever nearby school they wanted.
Tom wanted to go to Jones because it was an ideal destination for him to play football and basketball.
In anticipation of meeting his new classmates, Tom did some research by scanning through photos in the annual.
When he came to a red-haired freshman girl named Peggy Mobley, he stopped.
“She’s going to be my girlfriend,” he said.
More than half a century later, he’s still convinced it was love at first sight.
“That’s a true story,” Tom said. “I really fell in love just looking at that picture of her. That’s where it started.”
Soon, the two got cast together in a freshman assembly, and Tom fulfilled his own prophecy by asking her on a date.
Seeing as he was the new boy all the way from Spencer in a class of only 42 people, Peggy happily agreed. Tom’s dashing auburn hair that matched his fiery eyes and vibrant personality didn’t hurt his cause.
The first date was a trip to the movies, where a quarter bought a ticket, snacks and a drink. Tom drove on his other pride and joy at the time — a Cushman-Eagle motor scooter.
Peggy burned her leg on the exhaust and had a scar for years.
LOSING THE RING
On the rainy afternoon of Sept. 6, the Millers pulled onto the OSU campus with friends after staying the night at their Stillwater townhouse.
As season ticket holders for decades, the Millers were more than excited to see the first home football game of the 2014 season against Missouri State. Also because of their loyalty to the school, the Millers are on a select list of people who get one game per year in the stadium’s megasuite. They chose this one because they expected it to be hot outside for the 2:30 p.m. kickoff.
But rather than stiffing heat, the temperature was mild and it had rained all day.
The couple got out of the car and Tom — now older and grayer and slower — fiddled with an umbrella and the cane he has used to get around since his left knee replacement only four weeks before.
As a result of the surgery, Tom lost close to 40 pounds. With the wet conditions, he thinks the ring slipped off his finger somewhere on the walk from the OSU POSSE parking lot west of the stadium to the southwest suite entrance.
Because of how wet it was outside, it’s possible it would have been tough to hear the ring hit the ground.
But the details are hazy because Tom didn’t realize his ring was missing until he went to put it on the next morning in Oklahoma City.
“I was sick,” Tom said. “I was just sick. I was kind of in a daze somewhat. You’ve had something for so long and it means so much, and all of a sudden it’s gone just like that.”
Tom and Peggy immediately started the search. They went clean through their house and car, retraced steps and called stadium personnel, all to no avail.
They were convinced the ring might be in their small townhouse they bought for the sole purpose of having a place to stay for OSU sporting events.
The weekend of the next game, they went through every inch of the place. Still no ring.
DECISIONS OF A LIFETIME
The relationship might not have worked out so seamlessly if not for a fraternity party Tom went to at the University of Oklahoma not long before he was set to go to college.
Tom’s uncle was a former OU football player, and Tom was a diehard fan set on attending school in Norman.
His experience at the party, though, left him with doubts. He said the people were snobby, and fraternity life definitely wasn’t for him.
Not long after, he spent a weekend in Stillwater.
“I was turned around just like that,” Tom said. “It couldn’t compete. It was just down to earth.”
A good decision, especially seeing how Peggy had always wanted to go to OSU. Tom and Peggy dated off and on throughout high school. Choosing the same college all but sealed the deal for the couple’s relationship, even though it took Tom a while to convert his fanhood.
“We went to some of the games (at OSU), and he said, ‘Ah, let’s leave. I can’t watch this stuff. Let’s go watch a real team,’” Peggy said.
Tom, of course, eventually switched his loyalties and become an intense Cowboys fan.
And so they continued to date, though the process was a bit different back then.
Especially for women, there was a strict curfew. 8:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 11 on Friday and Saturday.
Tom always made sure to have Peggy back to her Willard Hall dorm in time, not wanting to risk losing the privileges of staying out the next weekend.
On Dec. 1, 1963, Tom and Peggy — then 21 years old — married at a small Methodist Church in Stillwater. There was no grand gesture or vast celebration. It was family and maybe a few close friends.
Peggy graduated shortly after with a degree in family relations and child development, though Tom still had three semesters to go before finishing his electrical engineering degree.
The couple lived off the $4,200 a year Peggy made teaching kindergarten and had their first child, Todd, later that year.
Tom graduated from OSU in 1966 and immediately landed a job as an engineer for OG&E.
LOYAL AND TRUE
At the Miller’s townhouse in Stillwater, there is a large frame holding a painting of Edmon Low Library and four OSU diplomas — Tom’s, Peggy’s, Todd’s and another belonging to Lisa, the couple’s daughter.
Todd, 50, works for Ditch Witch in Perry. Lisa, 45, works for a realtor in New York City.
To the Millers, OSU is more than an alma mater. It’s a passion, almost a way of life.
“I think both being graduates of OSU helped our marriage in a way,” Tom said. “It gave you a common involvement.”
They have been to countless OSU football bowl games, the 2004 Final Four in San Antonio and hundreds of other OSU sporting events. Although now it’s limited to football and men’s basketball, the Millers used to have season tickets for every sport.
“I said if they would have had season tickets in tiddlywinks, we would have had those, too,” Peggy said.
It’s through OSU sports where the Millers developed many of their closest friends such as Bob Roth. The Millers met the Roth family when both lived in Muskogee and frequently made trips to Stillwater.
“We’ve been to many, many, many Cowboy games together,” Roth said. “At Lewis field, through thick and thin.”
And the Millers — Tom especially — don’t hide their passion. Just ask Bob Long, the Millers’ pastor of 24 years at St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.
“I went to the University of Texas,” Long said. “It is a running joke with Tom, and he loves to harass me any time they beat us in anything. If OSU were to beat Texas in a ping pong tournament, it would be a big deal.”
Tom is a former member of Oklahoma City’s All-Sports Association, where he would often argue with the board’s OU-loyal members. The Millers have given money to the school and its programs, gone to the games, bought the merchandise and even purchased their townhouse in 2000 to have a sanctuary in Stillwater.
“That’s kind of our mountain and lakeside cabin,” Peggy said. “That’s our sports cabin.”
A LIFE IN SUMMARY
It does little good to try to summarize 51 years’ worth of marriage.
And though the Millers’ attempt isn’t full of action or conflict, tragedy or triumph, it is an eye-opening portrayal of two lives well lived.
Tom’s job with OG&E meant the couple moved around several times, first to Fort Smith, Arkansas, then to Muskogee, then to the Oklahoma City area.
The most challenging move was the one to Fort Smith.
Despite having experience and applying seemingly everywhere, Peggy couldn’t find a job in 1982. That didn’t change until she started substituting at a school in Arkansas, and a fellow sub recommended her to the principal in Roland — a tiny Oklahoma town right on the state border.
The school was anything but glamourous and the academic standards were shockingly low, but Peggy accepted.
“Anybody could have taken the job that I took, but there wasn’t just anybody who could be a teacher in Roland, Oklahoma,” Tom said. “It’s like going back 50 years. And God needed her over there to help raise the standards of the school.”
Adjusting to a rural school that felt stuck in the past was an immediate challenge. Thanks to her persistence and passion for the job, Peggy wound up falling in love, so much so that she made an hour commute to school for two years after the Millers moved to Muskogee.
“It was a challenge,” Peggy said. “And I probably enjoyed it more there than any other place I taught.”
After their short stay in Muskogee, the Millers made one last move for Tom’s job, this one back to the Oklahoma City area, where the couple settled on a home in Edmond.
It was then, about 25 years ago, that Tom stopped wearing his original wedding band. The plain gold ring he got as a 21-year-old simply wouldn’t fit.
Also at this time, Tom was working with the United Way through OG&E as a loan executive. Here, he worked with a pretty young girl who was fresh out of college.
“She came up and said, ‘Hey, Tom, are you married?’” he said. “I was in such shock I drew back and said, ‘Well, yes.’ I thought she was interested in me.
“She said, ‘Well, I was looking for someone for my mother.’ That let all the air out. And after that is when (Peggy) had the ring made.”
It makes for a funny story, but Tom cherished his new ring. Peggy had it made in secret at a local jewelry store and gave it to her husband for either father’s day or his birthday — she can’t quite remember which.
“It’s the only piece of jewelry I’ve ever seen him want to have on every time he’s out some place,” Peggy said.
The ring’s signature feature — the two circles with the cross in the middle — is made from his original band. It symbolizes how it takes a man, a woman and the Lord to make a marriage work. It’s not something Tom advertises, but something Roth said is indicative of his nature and the very reason his love for Peggy transcends age.
“In all the time I’ve known him — and we’ve talked our share about religious things — I don’t think he ever shared that with me,” Roth said. “I didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised a bit.”
‘ALL YOU GOT’
Years ago, Roth headed back up to his hometown of Goodland, Kansas for his mother’s funeral.
Roth’s mother lived in Goodland her entire life before Roth was forced to move her to Muskogee for care after she got cancer. In her early 80s, she had outlived almost all of her friends and family.
Roth expected it to be a small funeral at the tiny Catholic church in Goodland. That’s why he was shocked when he walked down the aisle and saw Tom Miller sitting alone on the end of a pew.
The funeral was at 10:30 a.m., and it would have been almost a seven-hour drive for Tom to get there.
“When I saw him, I just did all I could do to keep from completely coming apart,” Roth said. “It just shocked me because he didn’t even say he was coming.”
It’s that kind of passion and emphasis on relationships that has shaped the Millers’ lives. And the biggest tribute for any of Tom’s actions might go to Peggy, who Roth said does an impeccable job of keeping Tom in line despite his opinionated personality.
“He will not hesitate to tell you what he thinks about things,” Roth said. “As a result, he’s probably got more than his share of enemies. But he doesn’t have an unethical bone in his body.”
About a year ago, the Millers moved one more time, settling in on their downtown condo in Oklahoma City.
The place is only a short walk across the street from St. Luke’s, where the Millers have loyally attended for the past 25 years.
“Now there’s no excuse to not go to church, if it rains, snows, whatever,” Tom said.
Peggy wouldn’t want anyone to view her and her husband as religious fanatics. They don’t mind enjoying an occasional cocktail or doing other things that, as Peggy said, “normal people” do.
But there’s no doubt faith has played an invaluable role in the Millers’ life together.
They both grew up in the Methodist Church, though Tom did so because there was no other church in Spencer at the time.
They’ve attended Sunday school classes since 1974, served in important positions on St. Luke’s ministry board, toured the Holyland on a trip to Jerusalem and followed the Apostle Paul’s route around the Greek Isles.
“We’re a large church,” Long said. “We have 7,000 members. If you reach that kind of leadership position, you truly are a strong and caring person.”
That faith might be the most important reason behind the Millers’ 50-year marriage, and it’s also the basis for the rest of their lives.
“We just hang on to our faith because that’s really all you got,” Tom said. “When you die, you can’t take anything with you. You don’t see U-Haul’s going to the cemeteries. But you do take your character with you, and you never get away from your character.
“It’s with you. It’s a part of you. You want to keep that character good. You don’t want to lose character, because then you’ve lost everything.”
'TIL DEATH DO US PART
Tom has two keys for marriage and life in general.
“Good health and bad memory,” he said. “Forget your mistakes, because it won’t do any good to mow over them.”
Like any couple, the Millers have had their ups and downs, though Tom admits to making more mistakes than Peggy has.
“I’d agree,” she said with a smile.
The difference for the Millers, cliché as it might sound, is devotion. Selflessness. Placing a greater value on love and its raw power than anything else.
“Before you ever think about getting married, you really need to sit down and discuss things,” Peggy said. “What does marriage mean? What do they expect out of it? How are you going to divide your finances? How many children? Where are you going to go to church? Do you want a church?
“You really need to look at all those things and know you have something in common that can grow and last.”
The Millers have come a long way since that scooter ride to the movie theater. Tom’s auburn hair has faded to gray. Peggy’s beautiful smile has wrinkled. But through all that, an even stronger love developed.
“When you’re first dating or know somebody, your hearts get all sweaty and nervous,” Peggy said. “You get over that aspect, and it becomes something more than just a physical attraction. It’s just an understanding that you love each other, that you’re there for each other, that you’ll always be there.”
There’s not much need to search for love in the Miller household. It’s already there.
For them, the only search is for Tom’s ring — the quintessential symbol of their passion and faith and lives together.
They don’t need that symbol to make it work. But because that love runs so deep, they’d do everything in their power to get it back.