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Bench built in honor of Millers

Nancy Oliver Hayden

For 37 years anyone looking for Ray and Bette Miller didn’t have to go any farther than Baldwin Beach. Ray took it upon himself to keep the beach clean and Bette swam in Lake Tahoe everyday from late April to October. Together they started a tradition that is still carried on by family, friends and neighbors.

The couple was residing at San Jose, Calif., in 1960, when they brought their family to Lake Tahoe for a vacation. They stayed in a rented log cabin on Gardner Mountain and discovered Baldwin Beach. Following that first visit they began coming up every weekend, and eventually their visits were extended to weeks and then months. In 1980 they bought a house in the Gardner Mountain area, where they lived most of the year, only going off the mountain to check on the San Jose house and make sure the bills were paid.

“My parents loved Lake Tahoe. It was really their home. I can’t remember ever taking a vacation any place else,” said their daughter, Debby Burns of North Hollywood, Calif.

“Baldwin Beach was my parents’ favorite place and they spent every day there. My mother was like the matriarch of the beach and everyone jokingly called her ‘Bette Baldwin.’ She was a baker and would bring cakes and cookies down to share with everyone.”

“My Dad, who was a pediatrician and retired director of Student Health Services at San Jose State, would bring his rake and clean up any debris on the beach. He was really into recycling and didn’t waste a thing. He also bandaged many a head and finger,” Burns said.

About 30 families vacationed at Lake Tahoe and visited Baldwin Beach at the same time every year and Ray and Bette made them all feel welcome. Over the years the families would gather at the same part of the beach for barbecues, volleyball games and birthday parties.

“We all became very close over the years and we keep in touch,” Burns said.

The group just kept growing and growing, and now second and third generations are joining in the gatherings with their children and spouses. Most of the families come to Tahoe on vacation, but the neighbors on Julie Lane near the Miller’s home also have become part of the group.

Among those neighbors are Walt and Toni Weatherly and Joey and Lori Buchan, who spearheaded the construction of a bench at Baldwin Beach in memory of Ray and Bette who died within nine months of each other. Ray, 70, was taken by a sudden attack of pancreatitis in December 1996, and Bette, 67, succumbed to lung cancer in August 1997.

“Everyone loved Ray and Bette and wanted to do something special to remember them. We thought it would be a great idea to do something at the beach they loved so much and came up with the idea of a bench everyone could enjoy,” Toni Weatherly said. “The entire block got involved and donated money for the project. Everyone pulled together and it was really neat.”

After obtaining the necessary permission and specifications from the U.S. Forest Service, Weatherly and Buchan built the five-foot-long wood and iron bench from boards made of recycled milk cartons – an appropriate tribute to Ray, who was such a believer in recycling. The plaque inlaid in the bench is inscribed “Donated by friends and family of Ray and Bette Miller.”

“Our husbands built the bench with the support and help of the many neighbors who knew Ray and Bette. They were the greatest people and were very well liked,” Lori Buchan said.

The bench faces Lake Tahoe and the area of the beach where the Miller’s always sat. It is accessible to disabled people and senior citizens who want to enjoy the view but find it difficult to go onto the sandy beach.

“The first people we saw using the bench was a father putting tennis shoes on his small son after emptying sand from them,” Toni said.

The Miller’s home now belongs to their two daughters, Debby, and Cyndy Taroli of Bend, Ore. The sisters, along with Cyndy’s husband, Raymond, and sons, Jason, 20, and Lucas, 17, are carrying on the tradition of friendship begun by their parents.

Now, when the families gather at Baldwin Beach year after year they can look at the bench and fondly remember Ray and Bette who brought them all together and were self-appointed caretakers of the beach.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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