March 23, 2019
by Elysia Conner
Everyone knew Ethan Miller would agree anytime to go check out some classic cars, so a show at Z’s Classics Friday evening was the perfect lure for the surprise.
Ethan, 18, arrived with his two best friends and perused the array of classic vehicles he thought was a car show but actually was the stock at the Casper classic car dealership.
Even after an announcement that a very special car was about to arrive, Ethan never suspected that the vehicle everyone was there to see was the car that had belonged to his family for five decades, the car he’d hoped since childhood to someday drive.
A garage door lifted and Ethan stared in shock as his father drove in a restored red 1969 Ford Mustang. Ethan’s father had told him his wish through Make-A-Wish Wyoming for the car to be restored wouldn’t be finished until summer.
“It means a lot,” Ethan said. “My dad’s had it my whole life. He got it when he was in high school and it’s been through a couple accidents, but my grandfather was a machinist and a mechanic so he fixed it all himself pretty much. And then when my dad got married, he kind of had to put it to the side and it pretty much just stayed in a garage for the last oh, 29 years.”
The last time Ethan saw the car about a year and a half ago, it was still covered in dents and dull paint with a dry-rotted dashboard and torn carpet scraps for upholstery, he said.
The first thing he noticed when it pulled into the garage Friday was the new candy-apple red of the original 1969 package paintjob with details down to the gold line in the center of its pinstripes, which run from the rear bumper to the matching “Mach 1” lettering at the front of the car.
Inside the new deep red interior hung the 1988 Kelly Walsh High School and 1992 Casper College tassels his father, Mark Miller, had left since those years on the rearview mirror.
Mark’s brother bought the Mustang new and drove it into the ground, and their father started fixing the car until Mark was old enough to drive. Then he handed the repair manual to Mark, who drove from high school through his first year at University of Wyoming. He brought the car from his father’s garage in Texas for it to become Ethan’s high school car.
Ethan was diagnosed with cancer at age 16 and went through two surgeries, radiation and trips every other weekend to Denver, Mark explained.
Still, Ethan continued to succeed at school and was able to return in time to help Natrona County High School win state soccer last spring. He started as criminal justice major at Casper College last fall and plans to continue at UW. Now the car is Ethan’s, thanks to Make-A-Wish along with donors and businesses in Casper who contributed, he said.
“Couldn’t be prouder,” Mark said. “I just hope he enjoys it and that he gets to enjoy it as much as I did. I hope he gets to look at this car instead of having to focus on his cancer.”
Make-A-Wish aims to bring joy and hope to children with critical illnesses, who often spend much time in surgery and treatment, Make-A-Wish Wyoming CEO Morgan Legerski said.
“For a lot of our kids, an illness steals a part of their childhood, and our hope is that a wish can give a piece of that back. I think when a child looks back as an adult, when you look back on your childhood, you should have something to smile about.”
Ethan grinned as he embraced his father and in the driver’s seat as he turned the key and the engine rumbled to applause from the crowd.
So did his friends Parker Munsey and Chris Minotti, both 19, who’d heard him ask his father since grade school if the car could be his someday. They helped conspire for the surprise by telling Ethan at dinner that evening that they’d just found out about a small car show.
Ethan has always liked loud American cars, but none as much the 1969 Mustang, because it’s been in his family, he said.
“I feel great,” Ethan said. “The car’s beautiful.”