Two Reluctant Farewells

It’s a sad week for American Fork. We lost two icons — one you probably know, another you might not.

Happily, they didn’t die. One retired, and the other resigned to pursue other opportunities.

Both have been public employees. Both have distinguished themselves in their professions. I have had the honor of knowing and working with both.

Yesterday, after 30 years as American Fork High School’s Director of Bands, Mr. John Miller conducted his last performance in that position, when the AFHS Wind Symphony played at commencement. Much praise has been heaped on him this year, whether he liked it or not, and he deserves all of it.

Wednesday was Chief Lance Call‘s last day at the head of the American Fork Police Department, after ten superb, understated years. He leaves more quietly, deserving but not wanting a lot more praise than he’ll get.

The two are very much alike. Both prefer to stand back and let others — staff or students — shine. Both have my gratitude and my admiration.

Mr. Miller took a strong band program and made it the best in the state and one of the best in the United States. His marching band cheers for its competitors, and that level of sportsmanship has caught on around the state.

Chief Call took over a department that was struggling in ways both public and private, got it mostly out of the news, exerted quiet and steady leadership, restored morale, and ended — with some help from taxpayers and the city council — a serious brain drain. (See this Deseret News story from 2007, when he was named Chief of the Year in Utah, for an account of his accomplishments in just the first two years.)

Mr. Miller taught two of my sons, including one who graduated yesterday. In less formal but nonetheless important ways — which did not involve criminal activity, by the way — Chief Call taught one of my sons, and one of his sergeants taught another.

I helped make a movie about Mr. Miller and his band program. I helped plan a massive, wonderful celebration of his career, which 1500 people enjoyed last Saturday evening. I have lots of photos and some video footage of him, because he can’t totally avoid the camera, even if he wants to.

Here he waits in the wings, as one of his American Fork High School bands tunes before his last concert.

John Miller in the wings - American Fork

The music Mr. Miller’s bands made was breathtaking. But what he did for students and staff — as people and as musicians — is what makes him one of my heroes. We could publish a full-length book of accounts people have written lately, for Facebook and elsewhere, describing how he and his band program influenced their lives — even saved their lives, in some cases. Then we could publish another one. (See this recent Daily Herald article about his career and legacy. I apologize in advance for the excessive advertising, etc., the Herald may put you through as your punishment for wanting to read one of their articles, but this one is worth it.)

If teachers get too little of our gratitude and acclaim, police chiefs get even less. Chief Call deserves his own book, describing how he has blessed the lives he has touched. But there will probably never be such a book. Even photos are a challenge. I’ve looked, and I don’t have a photo of him. The few I found on Google all belong to newspapers, including this one, so I don’t have the rights to use them here. For the purpose of this tribute, my lack of imagery is unfortunate. But it says something good about a public official that you’re more likely to run into him where the camera isn’t.

This next photo is as close as I come. After the Wride Memorial Walk in January 2015, I was talking to Chief Call as I took several photos of the honor guard. The event was over, and almost everyone had gone home. I asked him, “How long will they stand there?” It was January, you see.

“Until their commanding officer dismisses them,” he said.

AFPD - Wride Walk

He didn’t mean himself. He meant one of his lieutenants. Like Mr. Miller, Chief Call picks fine people to work with him, then lets them do their jobs.

Here’s a partial list of the things I’ve done with Chief Call in the past decade: crafted needed legislation and lobbied the city council until they passed it; visited privately about members of my congregation (when I was their bishop) who found themselves on the unhappy side of law enforcement, deservedly or otherwise; helped AFHS student body officers organize the Wride Memorial Walk (I hope they were watching Chief Call in those meetings); served as the civilian member of a committee evaluating candidates for promotion to sergeant; participated with my wife and son in the Citizens Police Academy; and discussed law enforcement, public relations, and other local government issues in occasional conversations and e-mails.

I have found him intelligent, kind, personable, professional, humble, and wise. And did I mention good? In my interactions with his lieutenants, sergeants, and officers, I have found them to be much the same. In all of this, Lance Call is a lot like John Miller. I will miss them both.

Mr. Miller’s replacement, Nate Seamons, has a fighting chance to fill his predecessor’s shoes. He’s a fine teacher and musician. Chief Call’s permanent replacement will eventually emerge from a nationwide search. I know and respect his interim replacement, Lt. Darren Falslev, from years of serving on the same committee and a number of times when I turned to him for help or information.

If these two leaders’ successors prove to be even almost as good as their predecessors, as I think they may, we in American Fork will be fortunate indeed.

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