Farmer Miller surprised with new Mule, drove it home with police escort
"Holy smokin' tobacco," uttered Marlyn Miller after walking inside Don's Kawasaki in Hallam on Thursday morning to find the showroom packed with about 40 family members, friends and well-wishers.
The 84-½-year-old Hellam Township farmer was still trying to sort it all out when Jenn Topp, Kawasaki Motors Corp.'s east-region marketing manager, explained that Kawasaki was giving him a brand new Mule four-wheeler to replace the one stolen from his pole building on Christmas Eve.
Miller pretended to swoon when Topp explained that Don's Kawasaki had tricked out his new Mule with heat and a full cab enclosure — Miller calls it a "lid" — so he can use it year-round on the family farm.
"I'm about half speechless," he said as he slid onto the driver's seat.
The money to customize the Mule came mostly from the net profit of a GoFundMe.com fundraising campaign started by Hellam Township resident Kevin Heiser — about $4,200, he said. That left a balance of about $600 or $700, which Miller's son, Marlyn "Butch" Miller, is paying off, he said.
Miller saved up for about two years to buy the used 2002 Mule that was stolen from the East Ore Bank Road farm he and Butch run together. It was later found ditched in the Susquehanna River in Saginaw, and is likely a total loss.
"It broke my heart when I heard about it," longtime friend Kerry White said. He accurately predicted he would shed a few tears when the surprise was sprung on Marlyn.
That's because Marlyn loved that old Mule and rode around everywhere in it, usually with Butch's dog Dotty riding shotgun.
'His right arm': It helped him get around the farm and allowed him to haul firewood with ease. The Millers' farmhouse is heated solely by wood, family members said.
"It was like his right arm on the farm," White said of the Mule.
Genny Moore, one of Marlyn's seven children, was in attendance Thursday with her husband and two grandchildren. She said the Mule was an important part of her father's life.
Despite that, he had concerns when he learned about the fundraising campaign to replace it.
"He was so worried that someone might have given money who needed it more than him," she said.
Humble life: Moore said her dad has lived humbly. He never owned a brand-new car, she said, and she can only ever remember him taking three vacations in his adult life — to Dollywood, Florida and Canada.
Marlyn has farmed his property for 56 years and is the son of farmers. He also drove a school bus for decades, according to Moore.
The community's response to the theft of his Mule has been "so overwhelming" for him, Moore said.
Butch Miller said he told his father they were going to Don's Kawasaki to take a look at a used Mule and admitted that trying to keep the secret from Marlyn was "driving me crazy."
"He was in shock," an ecstatic Butch said of his father's reaction. "It's great."
Grateful, overwhelmed: Both Marlyn and Butch Miller expressed gratitude to everyone involved in helping to replace Marlyn's Mule.
"I expected maybe a used one," Marlyn said, in light of the GoFundMe.com campaign and snippets of Butch's phone conversations he might have overheard.
But while he couldn't have been more delighted with his new Mule, it's clear there is something equally important to Marlyn — the fact that people cared enough to reach out to him.
"It's unbelievable, all the love and support," he said. "I got calls from so many people about it. ... How can I ever repay everyone?"
"Hugs are good," a loved one called out in response.
Later, Marlyn got a big laugh from the crowd when he said he intends to keep his new Mule locked.
Society's 'backbone': Topp said Kawasaki staff, including a vice president, were touched by The York Dispatch story about Marlyn's Mule being stolen and rushed to provide him with a replacement.
She called farmers "the backbone of who we are" as a society.
"Everyone jumped in to make it happen," Topp said, including Don Kissinger Jr. and Erin Kissinger, respectively the second- and third-generation of Kissingers who run Don's Kawasaki.
"We were fired up. We had to do something about it," Topp said. "I think all the stars aligned for this."
Several Hellam Township police officers, including new Acting Chief Drew Heistand, were on hand for the surprise, and two of them provided an escort so Marlyn could drive the Mule home via Lincoln Highway and Kreutz Creek Road.
Dotty, as always, rode shotgun.
Heistand said investigators are following a new lead in the theft case and urged anyone with information to call the township police station at (717) 434-1310.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.