MEDFORD -- The legacy Danny Miles built in his 45 years at Oregon Tech was forged based on the trophies he put in cases and the diplomas he put in hands. In life after basketball, his legacy is partly being shaped by a young woman now filling his picture frames at home.
While on a mission trip to Rwanda, Danny and his wife Judie met Honorine Icyitegetse, a 20-year-old who was helping take care of widows and orphans, many of whom had lost family members in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
"We saw a young lady who didn't get a lot of breaks in her life and we thought we could help her," Danny Miles said.
Honorine instantly clicked with Judie Miles even though the two didn't speak the same language. They bonded through singing. While the boys were playing basketball, the girls were chasing their passion.
"We went behind the stadium and sang together," Judie Miles said.
Honorine lost her own parents before she was nine years old. Her father died of a heart attack as the family fled Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Her mother died in childbirth a few years later. An orphan before her ninth birthday, Honorine found little motivation to try in school or go after her dreams.
"I was crying, 'Oh my gosh, where am I going to go home?' So, it was a really tough time," Icyitegetse said, "When you're orphaned, it seems like everyone hates you and no one cares about you."
Through faith and music, Honorine discovered in high school that that was not the case. Still, she had not felt the love of parents in a very long time until the Miles' entered her life. When Danny and Judie returned to Rwanda the next year, they made an offer to Honorine.
"We said, 'Honorine, would you be interested in joining our family?'" Judie Miles recalls.
"I'd already started calling them mom and dad, so I was so happy," Honorine remembers of the life-changing question.
She was eager to come to the United States, but it took years to become a reality. She was rejected three times by her embassy before she was finally accepted via a lottery system on the fourth attempt. Five years after she had met the Miles', she was set to become their daughter in the U.S. Honorine arrived at a changing time in the Miles' lives.
"She got here two days before my last home game as a coach," Danny Miles said.
"It was very exciting to see all those many people and to see him coaching," Icyitegetse said.
One chapter of Danny's life was ending, but one was just getting started.
“Danny was going to have a void and we thought, ‘Well, what better opportunity than to open up our home and bring her in as a sixth child?’” Judie Miles remembers wondering.
It's been nearly three years since she arrived and Danny has taught Honorine how to drive a car while Judie has helped her with her English and with the cultural challenges of adjusting to life in a new country. She now has an IT job with Lithia Motors in Medford. Honorine is extremely grateful for the opportunity she's been given and after the despair of orphanhood, she has climbed out stronger than ever.
“I’m really feeling loved and that created something inside of me," Icyitegetse said, "I’m more confident than I used to be.”
Now, with Danny Miles, a Hall of Fame coach, and her mom, a Hall of Fame parent, she's reaching further than she ever has before.
“My vision is really growing and I see bigger than I used to see before," Icyitegetse said, "So, yeah, I see big and I’m just going toward that.”
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