DU QUOIN — Rodney Miller knows a lot about small towns.
Although he now lives in Ocilla, Ga., Miller is originally from Benton, where he still maintains a 1,000-acre row crop operation in addition to a small operation in Georgia and a large corn maze in the Atlanta metro area.
He also was chief executive officer of McCormick International and Montana Tractors, and an agricultural career and volunteerism in FFA and 4H have sent him to 49 states.
But Miller hasn’t lost touch with his rural roots. He knows there are plenty of stories to tell.
So, six years ago, Miller began working on an idea to bring rural America to the rest of the world and tell stories of the area commonly referred to on the coasts as “fly-over country.”
The result is “Small Town, Big Deal,” a new television show debuting on the RFD channel in September that will eventually be syndicated.
“I breathe rural America,” Miller said. “That’s why this show is so great. It’s about everything in rural America. It’s about celebrating life in rural America. It’s about why everybody outside the beltline lives here, and everybody inside the beltline dreams of living here.”
Miller has been back in Southern Illinois this past week to film segments for the show at the International Harvesters Collectors Club’s Red Power Round Up, which is taking place at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds.
Miller, himself an IH enthusiast who owns 25 tractors and more than 75 implements, said he had been to Round Ups all over the country, but it was a gift that it took place in Southern Illinois this year.
“Because of my ties to Southern Illinois, we do a few more stories here than in other parts of the country,” Miller said. “But we’ve been in seven states so far, and we hope to be in all fifty states eventually.”
In addition to the Round Up, Miller’s crew has filmed segments in Southern Illinois on the Oxbow Inn in Pinckneyville, Camp Ondessonk in Ozark, the Chakota Therapeutic Riding Center in Germantown and the Excel Bottling plant in Breese.
Miller admits he doesn’t have much experience in front of the camera, but he has been working with Harrison Ford’s acting coach, and he has assembled a crack team to get the show and tell these rural stories to the widest audience possible.
“If you look at the three major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — if they depict rural America, it’s always in a negative light,” Miller said. “They depict it as a bunch of hicks. That’s the total opposite of what real life is here. These are good people with good values who work hard. Most of the great multi-millionaires came from rural America because they learned to make something out of nothing.”