George Miller Jr., Magic Wings co-founder, dies at 75

  • George Miller Jr. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • In this file photo, a butterfly feeds on a flower blossom at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in Deerfield. RECORDER PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • In this file photo, Mike Vincent, an employee of Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Garden, handles a Jackson's Chameleon while misting its enclosure. RECORDER PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • In this file photo, a butterfly sits on a flower at the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in South Deerfield. RECORDER STAFF/MICKY BEDELL

  • The Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in Deerfield has become one of the area’s biggest tourist attractions since its founding almost 20 years ago. FILE PHOTO

  • The owner of Magic Wings, George Miller Jr., has died at age 75. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • The owner of Magic Wings, George Miller Jr., has died at age 75. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, August 10, 2017

DEERFIELD — An Air Force and Massachusetts National Guard veteran with a long career as a general contractor, and a Brooklyn native never afraid to share his opinions, George Miller Jr. spent the past two decades raising and caring for 4,000 exotic butterflies at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens.

But it was his blunt personality that helped Miller, who died July 30 at the age of 75 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, make the enterprise the success it became, says his son, George Miller III.

“He took to it in a hard-charging way that characterized everything else he did,” the younger Miller said. “He always kept an edge about him.”

Running general contracting company Gemco Construction, George Miller Jr. was hired to build the butterfly conservatory, taking the original blueprint to turn the former site of Candlelight Restaurant into a place filled with butterflies, moths and tropical vegetation.

“It was up to my dad to make it real, to make it live,” his son said.

Instead, he became part of the ownership group with Alan Rulewich, who came up with the idea for the conservatory, which was inspired by a 1998 trip he took to the Butterfly Pavilion in Colorado.

When Rulewich departed a few years later, Miller became sole owner and made it into one of the primary tourist attractions along the Routes 5 and 10 corridor, along with Yankee Candle’s headquarters and Historic Deerfield, drawing more than 100,000 visitors annually.

“It really has helped to solidify making Deerfield a real destination place to visit,” George Miller III said.

He has been the business manager and chief financial officer since 2004, and his sister Kathy Fiore is the general manager, starting at the company in 2003.

“For 13 years, the three of us have been in charge of the facility, caring for it into the future,” Miller said.

While seemingly an “extreme niche” type of place, the family has sold the warmth of the experience, especially during winter months.

“It’s a chance to go to the tropics, and you don’t have to jump on a plane to do it,” Miller said.

The facility, since expanded to 20,000 square feet, is on more than 5 acres, with fauna imported from Central America, South America and the Philippines. Dozens of species are raised on site, enjoying plants, nectar stations and tropical fruits.

The conservatory also includes a food court and Monarchs Restaurant, which opened in 2006 to offer sit-down dining.

While the facility has been for sale for the past three years, George Miller III said he doesn’t expect any immediate changes.

On Magic Wings’ Facebook page, the family wrote:

“His loss leaves us devastated beyond measure. We will continue forward just as he would want and expect, but our days at ‘The Wing’ will be the poorer for his absence. We love him, we miss him, and we know he will always be with us.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.