Former Juneau plasterer still on the job after 63 years

Seventy-eight-year-old man has no plans to quit working

Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2011

OWENSBORO, KY — Herbert Millay was 15 years old when he began studying the art of plastering.

His two older brothers, just back from serving in World War II, couldn’t find jobs in Owensboro, so they moved to Chicago and learned to plaster.

When they came back, they taught their younger brother the technique — and he’s been at it for 63 years.

His trade added a dimension to his wife and kids’ lives that they might not have had, had he not been skilled in applying the paste-like mixture to walls.

In 1972, he was offered a job in Alaska, but it fell through. Intrigued by the idea of living in the 49th state, he decided to go anyway. He bought 18 suitcases, packed up his wife and four of his five children and flew to Juneau.

“Our daughter, Rosa, just had a baby, but she and her husband joined us later,” said Herbert’s wife, Martine.

The couple lived Juneau for 21 years, and three of their children, Kevin, Mark and Susan, are still there. He has worked on the State Capitol, the Juneau Drug building on Front Street and many other buidings, said daughter Susan Duval.

The Millay trade is carried on in Pennsylvania by the couple’s son, Michael, who has his own plastering business. He does restoration work, Martine Millay said.

Herbert Millay has worked in 11 states and the Bahamas but Millay’s talent is not limited to creating walls for homes and commercial buildings.

While working in Las Vegas, he made artificial boulders around a multimillion-dollar swimming pool.

“He made seven waterfalls” around the pool, Martine Millay said. Martine and Herbert were co-contractors. “I owned 55 percent of the business and did the bookkeeping,” she said.

Martine has since retired, but Herbert is still plastering. He’s 78, with no plans of quitting.

“It keeps me in shape, and I love it,” he said.

Millay’s brother David, who is the youngest of the Millay brothers, also learned the business from his brothers.

Last week, David Millay and Herbert Millay finished a remodeling job at the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn. David Millay is retired from Green River Steel.

Herbert Millay is not all work. A few years ago, he began making mosaics from colored glass that are displayed at The Crowne gift shop on Second Street, next door to The Creme coffee shop.

He said he had acquired some colored glass from his next door neighbor when they were doing some renovation work. The Millays live on Wing Avenue, across the alley from the Boulware Center, which had been the home of the Passionist nuns.

“They were going to throw it away,” Herbert Millay said. Since then he has created numerous wall and window hangings from multicolored glass.

The front window of The Crowne has several of his framed works in different colored glass. Crosses are his main theme.

Even before The Crowne’s owner Rosemary Conder knew who the artist was, she admired his work.

When Millay brought his mosaics to Conder, he told her he was a plaster mechanic by trade and she said her father also had been a plasterer. In short, they discovered that Conder’s father and Millay had been good friends and had worked together.

“We had an immediate and special connection,” Conder said. “I remembered visiting them at Birk City where they lived. My dad died 32 years ago.

“He (Millay) is a precious man and his wife is equally so,” she said. “I remember my parents talking highly of them.

“His work is original and he is a true artisan,” Conder said.

She said he downplays his work, but “most artists don’t appreciate themselves.

“I asked him why he does crosses and he said he felt he was supposed to because God has blessed him,” Conder said.

“I have a wonderful life,’’ Herbert Millay said.

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