Chuck Milhem, founder of the VNEA “Valley League,” died Saturday, July 9, at the age of 92. Born Charles Phillip Milhem back in 1929, he was simply known as “Chuck” to his many friends in coin-op, as well as to countless pool players here and abroad whose lives have been enriched by the annual 8-ball on-location competition he (with operator Dick Hawkins) launched in 1980.
In retirement for years at his McKinney, Texas, home after serving as president of the Valley Mfg. Co., Chuck had survived the passing of his devoted wife Florence as well as three rounds of cancer before finally succumbing to that disease.
He was very much the consummate businessman, and the VNEA league was very much a business decision. After viewing the success route operator Dick Hawkins had enjoyed with a local pool league in his town of Rochester, Minn., Chuck made the decision to bring the concept national at a time when coin-operated pool table sales were down in the face of the rush to buy the new video games that were all the rage beginning at the end of the ’70s.
As a prior veteran of the Brunswick Corp., he’d been instrumental in promoting bowling league play at a time when that sport had been losing steam. League play brought the finances of the bowling proprietor up, and Chuck thought the same thing could help with pool. The enduring success of the VNEA enterprise, which recently marked its 42nd year in business, proved his vision was spot on.
Chuck Milhem’s career in coin-op was celebrated by both the AMOA operator association and the AAMA manufacturer group as man-of-the-year during past conventions. The operating community, especially, has benefitted from his vision and devotion to league play. Along with dart leagues like the BullShooter, league play has become one of the route business’ most profitable assets.
On the personal side, Chuck’s close friend Tom (Dr. Cue) Rossman wrote: “He was a mentor to me when we worked together at Brunswick back in the early ’70s and afterward when we cemented our special bond during those treasured years with the VNEA.”
RePlay publisher Eddie Adlum said: “I was among the privileged to get his emails after he’d retired to keep our friendship going. During his time with Valley, he and I could sit on the platform at a VNEA tournament at the Riviera in Las Vegas, sipping a beer and just gazing out at that army of players shooting pool, knowing that such an extraordinary sight would probably not have existed had it not been for him.”
Gregg Elliott, executive director of the VNEA, said: “Chuck left us for his trip to Heaven with grace and readiness. I talked with him just before our 42nd Annual World Championships and he couldn’t have been any prouder of what he’d started, and we all have grown over these past four decades.
“Chuck will never be forgotten. He will always be front and center and truly missed by manufacturers, distributors and especially the charter operators and players from around the world,” Gregg continued. “Rest in peace, our Godfather and true leader.”