A reception will follow in our Life Story Center where food, drinks, and stories will be shared.
At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
Brighton Hospice C/O Geri Hart
2916 Pebble Valley Ct
Sun Prairie, WI 53590
Golden Retriever Foundation FBO Rachel Page Elliot Education Fund
PO Box 952732
St. Louis, MO 63195
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
With a life that spanned times of great change in the world around her, Constance “Connie” Gerstner Miller made the most of the days she was given while holding her loved ones near. She was the sort of person who never let life get the best of her, and her strength, resilience, and determination were truly inspirational. Her selfless love of friends and family included heartfelt devotion to animals, which were not only her livelihood but also her genuine passion. Deeply loved, Connie will be forever missed.
It was in the small town of Stanford, Kentucky that Connie was welcomed into the world by her parents, Don and Donna (Krueger) Utter, on October 18, 1943. There was much going on in the world during that time as WWII raged on overseas while those who remained stateside learned to work within the limits of rationing on common goods. Connie was the youngest of three as she joined her brother, David, and her sister, Lynne. Their family spent some time living in Nashville, Tennessee, but they moved to Stoughton, Wisconsin, when Connie was about eight years old as her father took over the family farm after being the president of a bus company. Connie’s mother was a homemaker and music teacher.
While growing up, Connie was a typical young girl of her generation. She attended the local one room schoolhouse and graduated from Stoughton High School in 1961. Connie’s affinity and passion for animals was firmly rooted in her childhood. She worked on the farm, and also showed sheep, horses, and dogs in the local 4-H. She had several close friends who had horses as well, and most days they rode all over the countryside or into town together. In high school, Connie was crowned Wisconsin Queen Barrel Racer. She had a short marriage soon after graduation and in 1964 she married again. In 1967, they welcomed the birth of daughter, Geri.
The couple built a home and small hobby kennel in Cambridge, Wisconsin. Although Connie had graduated from cosmetology school in 1964, she quickly found that working as a hairdresser was not for her. She was much happier boarding, grooming, and training dogs, while her husband worked outside of the home. They also started breeding Golden Retrievers and Alaskan Malamutes, hence the kennel name, “Malagold.”
After her divorce in 1970, Connie decided to make a full career in dogs. As a single parent, she built a large kennel in DeForest, Wisconsin that was a full-time boarding, grooming, training, and breeding kennel. On the weekends, Connie was a professional dog handler and showed her own Golden Retrievers and numerous other breeds for hire. In 1977, she became an AKC licensed all-breed handler. She was also a member of the Dog Handler’s Guild. For many years, Connie and Geri showed dogs professionally together, and Geri has always been part of the Malagold breeding program. Connie also continued with her love of horses, and had 3 boys that she loved taking on long, relaxing trail rides.
New and exciting changes were in store for Connie when she met a man named Fred T. Miller at a dog event, and the mutual attraction was instant. He persuaded her to move to Michigan to start the conformation events program at the United Kennel Club, Inc. Connie sold the kennel to her daughter and son-in-law and moved to Kalamazoo. She and Fred had a lot in common, and they were inseparable from the day they met. Fred was a gentle soul who was so grateful for his new family as Connie and Fred were married at the Kalamazoo Country Club on October 26, 1995. They enjoyed traveling together, not only to dog events but also on trips to Mexico, Alaska, and Maine. In 1996, Geri and her family also moved to Kalamazoo to work for the United Kennel Club. In 2000, Connie was deeply saddened with Fred’s sudden death, and in 2001 she sold the UKC.
After Fred’s death, Connie did her best to embrace the days she was given. She became a licensed American Kennel Club judge in 1999, and she continued in this accomplished role until 2020. She was approved to judge all Sporting Breeds and Best In Show, and judged all over the US, as well as China, the Philippines and Australia. She was known worldwide for her breeding reputation and bred more than 150 AKC champion and performance titled dogs. Connie was also a long-time mentor for Golden Retriever breeder education. Connie won Best of Breed at the Golden Retriever National Specialty in 1970, 1986, and 1988, won the Sporting Group at the AKC Centennial Dog Show in 1984. She was nominated as a Top Female Professional Handler in 1987, the same year that Geri was nominated as a Top New Professional Handler. Additionally, Connie was nominated as a Purina Outstanding Breeder in 2016. She also enjoyed a membership in the Golden Retriever Club of America for over 50 years.
Connie continued to find joy with her loved ones including her two grandchildren, Aubrey and Kade. Connie was thrilled to take two memorable trips to Africa with Blake, Geri, and friends in 2007 and again in 2014 with Blake, Geri, Aubrey, Kade, and friends. She loved classic country music and rock from the 1950s and 1960s. Among her favorites were Johnny Cash, John Denver, George Jones, Willy Nelson, Elvis Presley, and Patsy Cline. Connie also read all kinds of animal books and loved horror movies.
All who knew Connie would agree that she was truly extraordinary. She was determined to succeed, even when others told her she wouldn’t, and she undeniably had a heart of gold. Connie tried to help those who were less fortunate, and her devotion to her friends and loved ones was a priceless treasure to so many. She worked hard at everything she did, and she was always thinking of the future. Although she will be so missed, Connie leaves behind a legacy and memories that her loved ones will forever cherish.
Constance “Connie” Gerstner Miller, age 77, of Sun Prairie, and formerly of Kalamazoo, MI, passed away on Friday, July 30, 2021, at Hyland Crossing. Connie is survived by daughter, Geri (Blake) Hart; grandchildren, Aubrey Hart (Christopher Koenigsknecht) and Kade Hart; sister, Lynne (Ronald) Rutkowski; special friend and co-breeder of Malagold Goldens, Melissa Davis-Tripp; and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents; brother, David Utter; and her husband, Fred T. Miller.
Please join us for a Life Story Service on Saturday, December 4, at 11:00 AM at Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr., Kalamazoo, MI 49009, (269) 375-2900. A reception will follow in our Life Story Center where food, drinks, and stories will be shared. Visit Connie’s webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive favorite photos, memories, and sign her guestbook. Memorial donations may be made to Brighton Hospice or the GRCA Golden Retriever Foundation.