June 20, 2012 Edition

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Millers return to provide midway

The Portia Picnic opens Tuesday and organizers are excited to have Miller Spectacular Shows returning to provide the midway. Shown in this file photo from 2005 are Brooke Reese (from left), Max Hibbs and Jessica Reese enjoying a ride at the 100th annual picnic. This year's event will also include entertainment, booths and the baby show.

Gretchen Hunt

When area residents think about Portia Picnics of the past, the carnival provided for many years by the Miller family is at the forefront of many of those memories.

This year, after being absent for four years, Miller Spectacular Shows, owned by Johnny Miller, is returning to the annual event.

The Millers first started providing the midway at Portia in 1954. Bert Miller and his wife, along with their daughter, Carolyn, sons, Johnny and B.E., and twins, Janis and Jeannie, quickly became a part of the community.

Jean Osburn, whose father, Terral Freeman, was mayor at the time, recalls those early days.

"I was probably about eight years old when the Millers started coming to Portia," she said. "Johnny's dad and my dad became very good friends. My momma (Addie Freeman) would cook all day to feed the seven of them and the eight of us."

Miller Spectacular Shows remains a family business with Johnny's son and grandsons, as well as his sisters, Janis and Jeannie, working together. B.E. is retired in Greenbrier, and Carolyn and her husband built their own carnival that is now run by their children.

"Portia was always the highlight of our season," Johnny said. "We loved to go there. Besides the crowds that came to ride and play the games, we felt like we had lots of friends there." Osburn said she never missed a picnic until two years after she was married. She recalls sitting watching with her neighbor and best friend, Kay Smith Dulaney, as the carnival began to take shape.

"The picnic ground was right behind our houses," she said. "We would sit on an empty lot and watch them put up the carnival rides."

Somewhere during the years, the excitement about rides faded for Osburn and was replaced with a feeling of reunion.

"Now, I go to visit with old friends and catch up on what's going on in their lives," she said.

The friendship between the Freeman and Miller families continued through the years including visits in Bald Knob, where the Millers spent the winter months.

"I've watched their kids grow up, and now their grandkids," Osburn said. "If they are ever close by, I try to go see them to catch up. When they come to Portia, it's like family coming home."

That sentiment is shared by Johnny who noted there have been a lot of changes in the carnival business through the years.

"Instead of BBQ pits, there is a shiny new corn dog stand, and the ferris wheel has been replaced by newer, wilder rides for the teenagers," he said. "We travel in modern self-contained RVs and air-conditioned semis pull our loads. But, the one thing that will never change - when I pull into Portia, I will still feel like I have come home again."

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