• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Old Gold finds help next door

D.R. Miller steps into new role as diner’s site manager
D.R. Miller took over as site manager of the Old Gold Diner in August after the retirement of Dunae McAtee. (photo by Nathan Countryman)

By Nathan Countryman
Solon Economist
SOLON– D.R. Miller is proving you’re never too old to start a new career.
Miller was recently named the new manager for the Old Gold Diner in Solon, taking over for Duane McAtee, who retired at the end of July.
“One of the biggest challenges for me has been that I’ve been used to writing everything down in ink in my professional life,” Miller said. “This job requires you to write things down a lot more in pencil, to be willing to be flexible to whatever changes the day brings.”
Miller said a lot of the current success of the Old Gold Diner comes from the volunteers who help him in the diner each day.
“I really can’t take the success for any of the work of our amazing volunteers,” Miller said.
The Old Gold Diner is supported by funds from the City of Solon, the Beef Days Committee, the Solon Area Community Foundation and other private donations throughout a calendar year.
“We’re too small of an operation to receive funding from the state of Iowa, serving roughly 520 meals a month,” Miller said.
Those meals though, Miller knows, are important to the people who receive them every day.
The volunteers who assist Miller at the Old Gold Diner include Larry and Marcy Olson, Jon Lorence, and Gerald Chaloupka.
“If it weren’t for them, these meals wouldn’t get out to people in the community,” Miller said. “A lot of people who rely on the Old Gold Diner can’t make it to the meal site every day. They may not have transportation every day, or for other reasons can’t make it here, and these volunteers help.”
When it comes to dishes and clean up, Barb Mickelson comes in on Tuesdays and Thursdays and helps out at the diner on that front.
Miller said he was talked into taking the position as director by friend Jon Lorence.
“They had been looking for someone to serve as the manager, and were struggling to do so,” Miller said.
Miller, who lives next door to the Solon United Methodist Church, joked even on a day where other people might be snowed in, he shouldn’t have a problem making it to work.
Miller admits there has been a learning curve for the man who spent a majority of his career working in journalism and public relations.
“Duane and Anna McAtee have really helped to keep me on the straight and narrow, and taught me how the facility works,” Miller said.
One of the biggest challenges for Miller is coming up at the end of September, the annual fundraiser for the Old Gold Diner.
“This will be the first fundraiser I’ve ever organized, and it’s planning a meal that caters to 150 people, as well as finding people who are willing to be ‘arrested’ for a day to help us raise funds to continue serving the community of Solon,” Miller said. “That draws on my past career experience in retail, to be able to approach people and be social. My work in the business office is helping with the meal planning. My biggest fear is that we’ll have no one attend the fundraiser.”
Miller originally landed in Iowa City as an retail manager of Roshek’s Department Store.
“I had previously worked as an assistant manager at their store in Dubuque, and when they opened a store in Iowa City, they wanted me as the manager,” Miller said. He held that job for a couple of years. In 1977, he first went to the University of Iowa to pursue a degree in journalism and mass communication, graduating in 1981.
“There was a spat of time there where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and held a number of odd jobs, including as a bus driver, making pizzas and selling shoes and boots,” Miller said.
From there, Miller worked for a number of years with local newspapers, including the Solon Economist, Iowa City Press-Citizen, Cedar Rapids Gazette, being a stringer for the AP and UPI wire services, and eventually for the University of Iowa in the pubic communications office.
After Miller retired from the University of Iowa, he spent a few years traveling.
He became sick in 2014.
“That illness literally took the wind out of me,” Miller said, gesturing to his oxygen tank. “I had to learn how to do a lot of things all over again– talking, walking, writing.”
Miller added being manager of the Old Gold Diner has been a great boost to his confidence.
“This gives me an opportunity to serve new people,” Miller expounded. “I also get to work at a nice facility. Even though we are hosted at the Solon United Methodist Church, we’re a non-denominational entity, and the church is willing to host our meals there every day.”
Along with the fundraiser, the facility hosts sponsored meals once a month, where an area business pays for the meals of those attending.
“It’s a way to bring businesses and our community together,” Miller said. “The next sponsored meal is Wednesday, Sept. 20.”
While Miller said many of the attendees of the Old Gold Diner are older, the meals are open to anyone who wants to attend.
“For $3.75, you get an entree, two sides and a beverage,” Miller said. “We just ask people call by 1 p.m. a day in advance if they’re going to be attending so we have meal counts right for our partnering organization Solon Retirement Village.”