Who knew this guy loved opera?

Published: Sunday, Oct. 25 2009 12:26 a.m. MDT

Larry H. Miller

Tom Smart, Dnews

"After all, you know this guy," the well-known ad slogan reads. But did you really?

Unless you attended the Utah Festival Opera in Logan this summer, you'd likely be surprised to find out that the festival owes a big part of its existence to Utah sportsman Larry H. Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz, Miller Motorsports Park, 41 car dealerships, movie theaters and more.

Miller's donations to the festival, worth millions of dollars, were usually made anonymously, with Miller saying "we're blessed enough to be part of this."

Only on the most recent contribution, the renovation of the festival's theater, did Miller tell festival organizers: "If having our names associated (with the festival) would be helpful, then you are welcome to use them."

This summer, with pre-show speeches, followed by appreciative applause from audiences, UFO founder Michael Ballam dedicated the season to Miller, who died Feb. 20 from complications of type 2 diabetes.

At the EnergySolutions Arena this fall, months after UFO ended its season, Michael Ballam and Larry Miller's wife of 44 years, Gail, agreed to meet to talk about the unlikely opera/Jazzman partnership.

"It's an interesting story," Gail Miller said, after getting a hug and an early birthday present from Ballam, "He never forgets a birthday," she said.

"I used to go to Education Week (at Brigham Young University), and I tried for years to get Larry to go," she said.

"She strong-armed him," Ballam chimed in.

"Finally," she continued, "he got tired of me nagging him, and I said, 'You've got to hear Michael.' I knew it was something Larry would love. They have similar feelings; they're both tender. …"

"We both cry over a good breakfast," Ballam joked.

Gail Miller laughed with Ballam at the comment, acknowledging Larry Miller's trademark tears.

"At the conference, Michael did an evening of Irving Berlin — as patriotic as you get. And Larry is so patriotic. As soon as he heard the first note, he said, 'I've got to meet him.' "

Ballam was scheduled for a book signing the following day and the Millers went. "He wanted to see him while it was on his mind," she said, then added, chuckling, "When we got there, he said, 'I'm not standing in that line.' "

Instead, he called. Ballam said, "Our secretary said, 'Larry Miller is on the phone.' Well, we have three Larry Millers in Cache County, and I thought, 'I'll call him, I'll call him.' Then she said, 'No … Larry H. Miller.' I called him instantly and said, 'Is this Larry H. Miller, my hero?' He chuckled and said, 'That was supposed to be my line.' "

Ballam continued, "He said, 'I'm coming up to Logan, and I want to meet you and I want you to tell me what you're doing.' Well, if that wasn't music to somebody's ears.

"I told him, my vision is not about opera or musical theater," Ballam said. "It's about blessing the community and the children."

"Michael's vision is something that spoke to Larry," Gail Miller added.

"Larry," Ballam continued, "told me to make a list of our needs and to put them in order." That list included housing for visiting artists, a production facility and an endowment fund that could guarantee future income.

"I have no idea how he remembered everything. He didn't take any notes," Ballam said.

"He has an intense concentration ability," Gail Miller added, "and when he focuses, nothing else is in the room."

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