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For 68 years, Willis Miller, a newspaperman and author of local histories, chronicled the lives of the people of Hudson, Wis.

He pursued his craft with a human touch and was a meticulous historian who wrote 19 books. He was known for his index card file, which documents 200,000 people who have appeared in the Hudson Star-Observer's pages since 1890.

Miller, 89, a reporter turned publisher and who wrote a column for the Hudson Star-Observer for 40 years, died Sunday in St. Paul, two days after having a stroke.

Although he originally was supposed to retire in 1981 and again in 1984 after selling his stake in the paper, he said in the Aug. 30, 1995, Star Tribune that he had no plans to leave.

"I've had a good living out of this," he said, "and, God knows, I have had a lot of fun."

On Friday, co-workers found him unconscious at his apartment across the street from the newspaper after he failed to show up for work at 8:30 a.m.

He contracted polio as a boy, and during the Great Depression his father lost his job. So Miller worked his way through St. Olaf College in Northfield, cataloging information for the Norwegian-American Historical Association at St. Olaf.

When he joined the Star-Observer in 1940, he was paid $11 a week and got around Hudson on a bicycle when he began covering police and politics. In the 1950s, he became editor and publisher.

"He had a real feel for the human side of the story," said Doug Stohlberg, editor of the Star-Observer, whom Miller hired in 1973. "And yet, he knew that he had to do his job," asking the tough questions but being "humane" to his sources.

He contributed thousands of books to historical societies, libraries and colleges, such as the Minnesota Historical Society, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the St. Croix County Historical Society, which he cofounded in 1947.

When he wrote about the pioneers along the St. Croix River, "it was as if he knew those people personally," said his friend Bill Radosevich of Hudson.

Miller was personally frugal, but generous to others.

He knew that when prison inmates he had helped through the Amicus prison program came visiting after their release they were there to tap him for money, but that was all right.

His luxury was "adventurous travel," said Radosevich, adding that he probably knew everyone in the Hudson area and collected friends all over the world.

In Katmandu, Nepal, a youngster wanted to practice his English with Miller. Decades later, the two remained friends.

He once gave a barefoot boy in Algiers a pair of shoes, and the boy, as an adult, hailed Miller when Miller was on a return trip to North Africa.

While visiting Miller in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Radosevich was astounded at all the folks who waved and called to Miller, not unlike when he walked down a street in Hudson.

"He never stopped learning and always stayed young," said Radosevich.

Miller is survived by cousins.

A service will be held at 1 p.m. Nov. 28 in the O'Connell Family Funeral Home, 520 S. 11th St., Hudson, Wis.

Visitation will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the funeral home.