Jeff Miller called up his father and told him he had a new van for him.
“I don’t need a van, already got one,” Jim replied. But he drove over the morning of Jan. 6 to the warehouse behind Miller’s Fresh Foods to find the employees standing out front and Jeff opening the garage door.
His body ravaged by an accident 10 years ago, Jim got out of his van, grabbed his walker and skirted over the ice and snow toward Jeff.
“Look at your new ride,” his son said, pulling off a canvas covering a 14-foot statue of a steer that had stood outside Jim’s store in Jamestown for a dozen years, dating back to 1970.
Tears welled in Jim’s eyes.
“It about knocked me over,” he said. “It brings back a lot of memories.”
He’d paid $5,000 for the figure when he was a meat cutter.
“Millerized meat at Miller’s Fairway,” Jeff recalled customers saying.
“The guy that sold him to me, I also bought a big, huge walleye that he made and I had that over my freezer section,” Jim said.
Jim retired in 1982 (he still drives truck for Miller’s three days a week) and had no place to put the steer.
“My brother had a store in Grand Forks, but he didn’t want it, so I sold it to Wally DeSautel in Grafton for $2,500,” Jim said.
DeSautel recently sold his Devils Lake grocery store to Nash Finch and the Grafton market to the Hugo’s chain in Grand Forks. Jim recalled meeting the late Hugo Magnusson when he drove a bread route for Holsum in 1947.
“He was a gentleman,” Jim said.
Jeff had been talking to DeSautel about reacquiring the statue for three or four years. When he heard of the sale of Wally’s, he contacted the Magnusson family, who gifted the steer back to the Miller family.
“That brought tears to my eyes,” Jeff said.
When Wally’s first supermarket in Grafton burned down, the steer earned the name Phoenix. Jeff said he’ll be renamed Boniface, Jim’s middle name.
“Boniface Sebastian,” Jim joked.
Boniface, his eyes repainted and his nose hanging over the white picket fence of the 20-foot trailer he was brought back to Mayville on, will have security cameras watching him.
“He’s one of a kind and he’s never going to leave our family again,” Jeff said. “We’ll use him in parades and for special promotions and any outdoor events we do. He’s our signature. Jamestown’s got the buffalo, we’ve got the steer!”
And the Black Angus that stands above the entrance at Miller’s in Mayville.
“He was a Hereford, but we painted him,” Jim said, laughing. “It all tastes the same. Meat’s what made North Dakota.”
Just think of all the freezers the meat from a 14’-by-20’ steer would fill.
Photo by James R. Johnson | TRIBUNE
Jim Miller is dwarfed by Boniface, a 14-foot high statue that stood outside his store in Jamestown back in 1970. He sold it in 1982. The Miller family recently reacquired Boniface and brought him back to Mayville.