Professor James S. Miller remembered with love and appreciation for his three decades of service to Goshen College

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Professor of Biology James S. Miller

GOSHEN, Ind. — Members of the Goshen College community reacted with shock, disbelief and sorrow when they learned about the homicide of Professor of Biology James S. Miller. Since then, a candlelight vigil and convocation on campus and visitations and two church services have helped students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends cope with the tragic death and given them a deeper appreciation for Professor Miller’s many contributions to Goshen College.

The Goshen Police Department reported that Professor Miller, 58, was killed during a home invasion robbery at his home about 1 a.m. on Oct. 9. Linda Miller, Professor Miller’s wife, was wounded in the attack and was hospitalized for five days. She continues to recover.

While police spent countless hours investigating the case, family, friends and members of the college community gathered six times over nine days following the homicide to praise God, pray for the Miller family and to remember Professor Miller’s 31 years of service to the college.

At the most recent gathering, two hours after his burial on Oct. 17, nearly 900 people crowded into Clinton Frame Mennonite Church in Goshen for a memorial service led by Terry Diener, lead pastor at the church. Two of Professor Miller’s children played a duet on flute and piano while his brother and sister offered recollections of their childhood with Professor Miller.

President James E. Brenneman offered condolences to Linda Miller, and their children, Lisa Rose Martin and Leanne and Robert Miller. In a moving tribute, the president said that Professor Miller understood better than most the Scripture’s claim that  “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part experiences joy, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

“We not only suffer with you in your loss, we extend to you our deepest heartfelt sympathies, our ceaseless prayers and abiding support. We, along with you, will lose parts of Jim in bits and pieces for a long, long time to come. The body is broken,” Brenneman said.

“We also rejoice with you in the human, loving, thoughtful, fallible, quirky, gift that was Jim’s person. We are thankful that in major research facilities and makeshift medical hovels, at countless bedsides, in operating rooms and drop-in clinics all across the globe and right across the street, thousands are being tended to, cared for, blessed and will be so for years to come by those taught by Dr. Jim Miller,” Brenneman said. “Jim was passionately driven to keeping Goshen College among the top colleges and universities in the nation for getting pre-med students into medical school.  He wanted our future nurses, our budding research scientists and physicians to be among the best in the world, as they are.”

Goshen College President Jim Brenneman speaks to the campus community on Monday, Oct. 10, 2011 when they gathered for a convocation in the Church-Chapel for a time of prayer, singing and storytelling to remember James Miller.

Brenneman described Professor Miller as a man of faith who was dedicated to science, fascinated by the human body and committed to helping his students. To better connect with students, Professor Miller told jokes and puns, faithfully attended campus athletic events, worked long hours and maintained an open-door policy. He also supported his faculty colleagues.”Faculty members remember Jim as someone who would go the second mile for his students, giving retakes on exams, coming back to the office on Sundays to help a student prepare for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). He was someone to emulate in his availability and the number of student scholars he mentored,” Brenneman said. “He reached out to new faculty time and time again to make them feel at home at Goshen College.”

President Brenneman also recalled Professor Miller’s pride in Robert and Leanne, who are members of the Goshen High School band. The entire Crimson Marching Band attended the memorial service and played three hymns, which drew tears from some people.

Brenneman ended his remarks by returning to the theme of the body, saying, “We are, along with you, part of what Scripture calls ‘the body of Christ.’ Like the human body, such a body with its spiritual DNA is a miracle to behold, able to decode beauty, experience joy, bear pain, and generate healing.

“On behalf of all of us at Goshen College, I pray that each one of us — touched as we were by the life of Professor Jim — will discover here on earth what he now knows in heaven. Discover that wondrous new and living body that is now his forever and ever. So, as Leanne has taught us with such poise on the performance field, here’s to you, Jim,” Brenneman said as he raised his head and right arm and blew a gentle kiss toward heaven.

Over 450 people gathered outside Goshen College’s Science Building and Schrock Annex to mourn the loss of James Miller, professor of biology, in a candle lit prayer vigil on Sunday, Oct. 9 after his tragic death early that morning.

Less than 19 hours after Professor Miller died, President Brenneman and Campus Pastor Bob Yoder led an equally emotional candlelight vigil on campus, which was attended by nearly 500 people. The crowd gathered beside the south entrance of the Science Building and heard words of comfort and sorrow from Brenneman and Yoder. Many people prayed, cried and sang hymns.The next morning, President Brenneman led a convocation to remember Professor Miller. The convocation began with the lighting of an oil lamp while the president said: “We light this lamp in prayer, remembrance and recognition of the life and light of Christ and his servant Professor Jim Miller. In so doing, we are reminded that light overcomes all darkness, love overcomes all hate, and life overcomes even death itself.”

In between hymns and periods of silence, students, faculty and staff members offered brief comments about Professor Miller, which evoked tears as well as laughter. Throughout the week, sorrow, joy and gratitude were common emotions expressed as students and colleagues coped with Professor Miller’s death and recalled his legacy amid extensive news media coverage.

Meanwhile, administrators kept the campus community informed about the status of the homicide investigation and encouraged students and employees to keep safety foremost on their minds. The Goshen Police Department provided extra patrols around campus and adjacent neighborhoods.

In the following days, prayers for the Miller family as well as for friends, students and colleagues were offered both on campus as well as during a prayer service at Clinton Frame Mennonite Church on Oct. 12 and during two periods of visitation at the church on Oct. 16. Professor Miller’s life was celebrated in displays of photos, documents, personal items and written reflections at the visitations and the memorial service.

Clinton Frame Pastor Terry Diener gave a call to worship to the nearly 900 people who gathered at Clinton Frame Mennonite Church on Monday, Oct. 17 for a memorial service for James Miller.

James Steven Miller was born Aug. 6, 1953, in Millersburg, Ohio, to Oscar Miller and Elizabeth (Bixel) Miller. He grew up in Berlin, Ohio, and graduated in 1971 from Hiland High School, where he was valedictorian. He also was a member of the National Honor Society, the Science Club, the Quiz Team and the yearbook staff and was the statistician for the basketball team.He graduated summa cum laude from Bluffton University in 1975 with a B.S. degree in chemistry. He was a C. Henry Smith Fellow, a member of the Academic Policies and Services Committee and secretary of the Investment Club. During summers, he did factory work at Berlin Wood Products.

He completed his doctorate degree in physiological chemistry (now known as medical biochemistry) at Ohio State University in 1980. His research interests included lipids, prostaglandins, platelets, tissue culture, atherosclerosis and nutrition. At Ohio State, his work experience included serving as a graduate research assistant, a computer programmer and a laboratory assistant.

He came to Goshen College to teach in 1980. The Goshen College Board of Directors granted him tenure as associate professor of biology in June 1985. He primarily taught upper-level courses taken by students in health-related tracks. He taught pre-med students, counseled them about medical school applications and wrote many references for students resulting in admission to medical schools. He also was chair of the Pre-Med Committee and adviser to the Pre-Med Club and supervised Maple Scholar researchers in the summer and numerous lab assistants.

As department chair, he was chief spokesperson for the Biology Department on the committee for the renovation of the Science Building. He took the lead in selecting and purchasing new lab equipment for measuring metabolic rates of individuals and supervised other faculty in learning to use this equipment. His “Fetal Pig Dissection Guide, Including Sheep Heart, Brain and Eye,” which was copyright in 1993-1994, is still used as a major resource in this area.

Professor Miller was known as a serious and dedicated academician and researcher. Family members and colleagues say he loved computers and applied a rigorous scientific approach to much of what he did — from teaching and administering tests to researching ways to ease his chronic back pain and improving his sense of humor.

After noting that some students gave him low marks for his sense of humor, he set about to change that. He collected jokes, eventually compiling an extensive database of jokes and puns, and practiced his delivery by telling jokes to family members. When he was off campus and an administrative assistant was assigned to administer a test in his absence, he would leave a joke to be delivered to students his behalf. Eventually, student evaluations confirmed an increase in his humor scores.

“Professor Miller was highly respected by students for his knowledge of the content he taught and for his understanding of current developments in the biological sciences,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean Anita Stalter.”His classes were difficult but as one student noted, ‘Dr. Miller does a good job of relating course material to real-life situations and problems, which helps to keep students focused and interested.’

“Jim cared deeply about student learning and often worked with students outside of class who needed additional instruction. He will be missed at Goshen College as a teacher and colleague,”

Ryan Sensenig, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, said Professor Miller’s death has left a void in the Biology Department that will not be easily filled. In the short term, however, retired and adjunct faculty will teach Professor Miller’s students for the rest of the fall semester.

Professor Miller was an active participant at Clinton Frame Mennonite Church, and before that College Mennonite Church. He was an avid member of the Millersburg Radio Control Modelers (airplane) Club.

He married Linda Suderman July 7, 1991, in Fresno, Calif. She survives.

Also surviving are two daughters: Lisa Rose (Jeff) Martin, and Leanne Miller, both of Goshen; a son, Robert Miller, Goshen; a grandson, Jared Martin; and his mother, Elizabeth (Marlin) Jeschke, Goshen; a sister, Kathy (Willard) Fenton-Miller, Marcellus, Mich.; and a brother, Tom (Crystal) Miller, Portland, Ore. Professor Miller was preceded in death by his father, Oscar Miller.

—Written by Richard R. Aguirre