When Tony Miller was growing up on the farm in Iowa, he rode "the short bus" to school.
"There was a girl with cerebral palsy who lived on our route, so it was simpler for the bus company to pick my brothers and me up on that bus," he said last week.
"The driver was really nice, and used to let me help the girl onto the bus. She was in a wheelchair, and needed pegs to keep the chair from rolling around in the bus."
However, Miller quickly learned the down side of riding "the short bus."
"I used to beg my mother to not make me ride the short bus, because the other kids made fun of me."
Eventually Miller went into education himself while having fun on the side taking pictures as a hobby.
Miller and his wife Molly transferred to Redwood Falls in 2006.
"We were brought to the community because we're both full-time teachers," he said. "I have a degree in history and taught social studies."
However, a four-month stint as a long term special education substitute teacher changed his whole outlook.
"I decided I kind of liked the job. I liked the pace, and I liked the one-on-one of working with the special ed students," he said.
"I will say, if I won the lottery, I would still come back to work as a special ed teacher. It's hard, but I can see the value of helping people fit into society. There's no textbook you can open for special ed students. They're all individuals."
On the side, Miller has a successful photography business, specializing in weddings and portraits.
"As a teacher I'm in the public sector, and as a photographer I'm in the private sector," he said. "I'm a fused member of the community, which I think we'll be seeing more and more in the future.
"People ask how I balance the jobs. I'm in the school nine months of the year, and most weddings and senior portraits are in the summer."
Miller also found a new way to combine his two passions this year: start a photography and media class for his special ed students.
"My attitude is you take what you're interested in, what you're passionate about, and you pass that on. With this class it's photography, but it could be anything I love.
"If I can teach my students how to learn a skill, they can learn any skill."
Since then his students have flourished, being responsible for creating multimedia shows at events like the annual Veterans Day presentation.
"I feel I've learned more from them than they have from me," he said. "It's like I'm learning photography all over again.
Page 2 of 2 - "I never went into special ed. I never went into photography. They found me. I can look back now and see how riding the short bus to school when I was a boy, and getting into photography as a hobby, all led to where I am today."
On Feb. 8, Miller was given the Hidden Star award at the Redwood Area Chamber and Tourism's annual meeting.
The award is given every year to a community member "who, through their vision, has given of their time, talents, and resources to the community for the benefit of the community as a whole."
Miller laughed, "That whole award was a huge surprise. I wasn't even going to go. My wife had to trick me into going."
Although he only intended to stay in Redwood Falls for a few years, Miller acknowledged his plans have changed.
"In the beginning I had thoughts of going back to Iowa, but I keep forgetting that," he said. "I'm going to be raising my kids here. Iowa looks further and further away all the time."