Judy Miller, a campground industry pioneer who was co-executive director of California’s campground industry trade association for more than two decades with her husband, Alvah “Tug” Miller, died on July 9, 2022, at home, surrounded by family. She was 84.
Miller died of myelodysplastic syndrome, three years after Tug Miller’s death at the age of 83 on July 23, 2019.
The Millers, who built and operated the Auburn KOA in Auburn, Calif. for more than a decade, were co-executive directors of the California Travel Parks Association (CTPA), which later became the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), from 1981 to 2004. While Tug handled government affairs, helping to secure separate building and safety rules for RV parks and campgrounds under Title 25 of the California Code, Judy managed every other aspect of the association.
“Mom did all the bookwork, board management and the biggest part, planning the conventions and visits to member and non-member campgrounds around the state,” said the Millers’ daughter, Debbie Sipe, who grew up working at the Auburn KOA and took over management of the association in 2004, when it was still known as CTPA.
“Judy was the driving force (of CTPA),” said Chuck Hays, a former CTPA and CalARVC board member and former co-owner and operator of Far Horizon’s RV Resorts in Plymouth, Calif. and Tucson, Ariz. “Judy was the backbone of the association, administratively and organizationally.”
Hays added that Judy Miller “saw the wisdom of the RV park and campground industry being proactive. We were involved in state issues, national issues and state tourism.”
In addition to spending two decades running CTPA and CalARVC, Tug and Judy Miller both served on the board of the National Campground Operators Association (NCOA), which later became ARVC. The Millers were also founding members of Campground Association Management Professionals (C.A.M.P.), an association of campground association executives from across the country who meet to exchange ideas and information to promote best practices among association managers across the country.
“I’m so sad to learn of Judy’s passing,” said Linda Profaizer, a former ARVC CEO who led the national association from 2001 to 2010. “I remember Judy’s positive ‘can-do’ attitude, smiles, laughter and maybe a few glasses of wine along the way. She was a wonderful person, a bright light, very giving, welcoming, interesting, smart. The adjectives could go on and on.”
In addition to working with state and national associations, the Millers worked with the late campground industry consultant John Imler to organize the National RV Park Institute, the one of the campground industry’s first educational programs. The week-long Institute course provided instruction on RV park management and operations and was held at several California RV parks over the years, including Marble Quarry RV Park in Columbia, 49er Village RV Resort in Plymouth and Casa de Fruta in Hollister.
Longtime campground industry officials credit Tug and Judy Miller for mentoring them at critical moments in their own campground industry careers.
“In many ways, (Judy) was a mentor to me as I learned about NCOA and the campground industry when I joined the association in 1986,” said David Gorin, who served as CEO of NCOA and later ARVC through from 1987 to 2001. “I loved Judy. (She was) always positive and upbeat, warm, friendly and a great state association leader. I’ll always have warm remembrances of Judy and Tug Miller.”
The Millers also mentored former campground operators Jay and Marji Otto as they became co-executive directors of the New Jersey Campground Owners Association (NJCOA) in 1986, which the Ottos led for 25 years.
“Judy and Tug were the type of people that everybody loved, and I think that’s why they were so successful in running their association,” said Jay Otto, who managed campgrounds in New Jersey with Marji until they became co-executive directors of NJCOA. “(Judy and Tug) were very forthcoming and sharing information with all the executives on how they ran their association.”
The Millers became close friends with the Ottos and frequently visited each other. “We visited their house and they visited our house as many times as we could,” Otto said. “We took trips with them after or before conventions. We visited Death Valley, Yosemite, Key West and the Everglades. We became close to their family. They always treated us like family. We miss them so much. They were like best friends to us in the industry.”
The Millers also provided valuable behind-the-scenes counsel to Bob MacKinnon as he transitioned into the campground industry after a successful three-decade career with The Walt Disney Company in which he managed Disney’s hotel operations in Florida and California. MacKinnon said he was responsible for managing the Disneyland Hotel as well as Disney’s Vacationland RV Park when he met the Millers in the 1990s.
“Judy and Tug took me under their wing and helped me a lot. They helped me understand the industry,” MacKinnon said. “I had expertise in the hotel business. But the RV park business was different in many ways. They helped me understand the nuances of the businesses. We developed a close friendship, a close colleague relationship. They were just so generous with their time and knowledge. They were so focused on helping people be successful in the campground industry.”
MacKinnon, who served on the CTPA board, said the Millers and David Gorin helped him create his campground consulting business, MacKinnon Campground Consulting, which he established in 1996.
Tug and Judy Miller lived and worked in different cities across the country before settling in California.
A native of Westchester County, N.Y., Tug Miller served in the U.S. Army Security Agency in Warrington, Va. and met Judy on a blind date while visiting friends at Scripps College in California. They later married and lived in several different states, including Virginia, New Jersey and Indiana, while Tug pursued different job opportunities and Judy worked as a teacher.
While living in Marion, Indiana, Tug was the purchasing agent for Anaconda Wire & Cable. The Millers ultimately decided to relocate to California and settled on the idea of building their own campground, which they could run as a family business. “Tug grew up with a dad who wasn’t home much. So we talked about going into business for ourselves,” Judy Miller recalled in an interview prior to his death.
The Millers opened their campground in the fall of 1973 and joined the KOA franchise network. Both served on the CalNeva KOA Owners Association board in the late 1970s, with Tug as President and Judy as Secretary. They sold their park in 1984, three years after becoming co-executive directors of CTPA, replacing former CTPA Executive Director John Imler, who left the association to run for a seat on the state Assembly.
The Millers passed the CTPA baton to their daughter, Debbie Sipe, in 2004, when she became executive director of CPTA after having worked for the association since 1981, when she was a student at California State University, Sacramento, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. Sipe became intimately familiar with her father’s government affairs work along with the permitting and regulatory hurdles that new and existing park operators face as they try to build new parks or expand existing ones.
CTPA changed its name to CalARVC effective Jan. 1, 2008. The association’s name was later changed to CampCalNOW RV Park and Campground Alliance in 2019, the same year Sipe retired from the association. The association, which is now managed by Dyana Kelley, changed its name again in July of this year to California Outdoor Hospitality Association to better reflect the expanding scope of the private park industry, which now includes glamping resorts as well as traditional RV parks and campgrounds.
Sipe said her mom stayed active after retiring from CTPA, serving as secretary, treasurer, and newsletter editor of the Rooster Tail Fishing Club in Auburn. “She was still secretary and newsletter editor up until the start of COVID,” Sipe said.
Judy Miller is survived by her children, Donna Baer, Debbie Sipe, Alvah “Terry” Miller, and William “Blair” Miller; Donna’s husband, Michael, and son, Bryce; Debbie’s husband, Michael and their children ,David and Rebecca, along with their spouses and four great grandchildren; Terry and his wife, Amanda, with their children, KK and Holly; and Blair with his three children, Chantelle, Blake, and Kyla, with their spouses and two great grandchildren.
A Celebration of Life Saturday is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, September 24, at the Auburn Elks Lodge, 195 Pine Street, Auburn, California. A disbursement of ashes will follow on Sunday, September 25.
Featured image courtesy of Debbie Sipe.