Photo courtesy of Drake Communications
BY PHONG LY
Drake University’s ninth president, Wilbur C. Miller, passed away on April 29. He was 94 years old. Miller was Drake’s president for 13 years, from 1972 to 1985, and made a big impact on Drake’s academic environment and also in his role as a member of the Drake community.
Many of campus’s most recognizable landmarks, including The Harmon Fine Arts Center, Olmsted Center, Olin Hall of Biological Science, Cartwright Hall, the Bell Center and Aliber Hall, were all constructed under his leadership. Howard Hall was also under renovation during the time.
According to the Des Moines Register, former President Miller graduated from East High School in downtown Des Moines. He attended Drake University from 1941 to 1943 and St. Louis University from 1943 to 1944. He was in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946. He then moved to Denver, CO, where he would spend 26 years at the University of Denver. He was awarded his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1948, master’s degree in psychology in 1949 and doctorate in experimental psychology in 1953, all from the University of Denver. As a Senior Stipend Fellow of the National Institute of Mental Health, he did post-doctoral work at the University of Michigan from 1963 to 1964.
Miller’s work with the University’s campus was so significant that the students who went to Drake before he became president would have trouble recognizing the campus after he retired. Miller said it himself, in a Drake Magazine article from 1985, that the addition of buildings like Aliber Hall and the renovation of Howard Hall are crucial examples of the development that took place during his time as president.
“The English Department was scattered all over,” Miller said. “That was not the way you wanted the future of the university to be.” In the same article, Miller stated that, without a question, during his time was when they made Drake a campus.
“And I think a reasonably attractive campus,” Miller said.
Miller was a visionary leader. He realized the challenge that was facing Drake University at a very early time. In an installation address from 1972, a few months after Miller became the president, he wrote: “The challenge for all of us at Drake will be to attempt to find the balance between career education and liberal education–between making sure that the opportunities for education in the arts and the sciences and humanities are present and vital, and at the same time realizing that education for a career can be a realistic and important goal of some of our programs.”
Miller was also a strong supporter of developing a strong connection between the University and the community surrounding the school. He also noted, in his installation address, Drake’s failure to “keep in touch with the community.”
“We have failed to communicate effectively our story of education and of change and interest and our contribution to society,” Miller said.
“Much of the school’s support comes from local people,” he told the Times-Delphic in 1978.
“There is a lot of support for Drake among Des Moines residents,” he said. “Just look at the number of people we employ, the number of people we bring in for meetings, the Drake Relays, and other events that fill hotel rooms and restaurants.”
Miller was optimistic and passionate about the future of Drake University. He said he saw some good coming out of the school – such as better education for the students and a better University for everyone and for the community. Miller loved the Drake spirit of “meaningful cooperation,” dedication between students and administration and trustees, of support, pride and respect.
“I did not come here simply because I wanted to be a college president,” Miller wrote in his installation address. “I came here because I wanted to be the president of Drake University.”
His many honors include the Drake University Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 1974; the University of Denver’s highest alumni award, the Evans Medal; the Distinguished Service Award of the Colorado Psychological Association; the Danforth Foundation Special Grant for Administrators; and an honorary doctor of laws from the University of Denver.
The Miller family will host a private memorial service. Memorial gifts may be made to Drake University at alumni.drake.edu/give. Visitors to that website may also leave a note in the “Gift in Memory of” section in memory of Wilbur C. Miller. Online condolences will also be welcomed at IlesCares.com.