Former Board Chair Virgil L. Miller remembered for his faith, generosity and servant leadership

Virgil Miller

GOSHEN, Ind. — Virgil L. Miller, chair of the Goshen College Board of Directors from 1999 to 2009, was remembered this week for his leadership and varied contributions to the college. Miller, 72, died July 19 at his home in Archbold, Ohio, surrounded by his family, following a two-year struggle with cancer. A memorial service was held July 23 at Zion Mennonite Church.

Miller spent his entire career at Sauder Manufacturing, Inc., rising from salesman to president and chief executive officer and later, chairman of the board. He gave his time generously to many nonprofit and charitable organizations and served as chair of several boards. He was appointed to the Goshen College board in 1997, became chair in October 1999 and served as the board’s leader until he stepped down in 2009.

As Goshen board chair, Miller helped the college achieve many of its major goals over the past 15 years, such as establishing new academic programs, maintaining financial stability amid economic downturns, building the Music Center and student apartments, moving to a new policy governance model for the board and mentoring two presidents.

Goshen College President James E. Brenneman said Miller was a friend and adviser whose life exemplified servant leadership.

“In 2002, Virgil said these words at a campus convocation: ‘The more I pay attention to my inner life, the more I see my work as service — service out of desire, not out of obligation. The more I see my work as service, the more I enjoy what I do.’ Virgil had a good journey and an amazing life of service,” Brenneman said. “For many years, as board chair, Virgil gave wise counsel and visionary leadership that profoundly strengthened the mission of Goshen College. He was an irreplaceable mentor to me, an intellectual and spiritual conversation partner, and a lasting friend.”

Besides his steady leadership, Miller and his wife, Mary Ann, donated to Goshen College for 37 continuous years. They gave generously for the construction of the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center and the Music Center and were members of the President’s Circle, which is made up of households that donate $25,000 or more annually to the college. Still, it is Miller’s board leadership that will be remembered most at the college and the close relationships he maintained with board members and administrators. Former President Shirley H. Showalter said Miller was a valuable role model.

“Virgil Miller did not experience life as divided, the way most people do. For him, the sacred and the profane were one reality. The twinkle in his eye never disappeared, and he was a man unafraid of his tears. As GC board chair, he rejoiced when the news was good and rolled up his sleeves when we had work to do, leading by example. He never dictated policy. He led by serving and caring and giving,” Showalter said.

“Virgil craved intellectual and spiritual growth for himself and others. That’s why he loved Goshen College. He knew that life was a journey toward God, and he never stopped encouraging and thanking his fellow pilgrims on the way. Working with and for Virgil Miller and the board he led was the greatest honor of my academic life,” Showalter said.

Virgil L. Miller was born May 10, 1940, near Pettisville, Ohio, the son of Charles and Bessie (Frey) Miller. He graduated from Pettisville High School, performed two years of 1-W service as a conscientious objector in Denver, Colo., and attended Goshen College. He married Mary Ann Zook Miller of Honey Brook, Pa., on Aug. 15, 1964.

He spent his 46-year career at Sauder Manufacturing, Inc. He served as president and CEO for 32 years until he retired in October 2005, after which he served as chairman of the board until December 2009. Miller also served as chair of several other boards, including the Archbold Area Schools Board of Education, and Four Seasons International, Inc. (Pennsylvania), as well as a board member of Sunshine Children’s Home (Toledo), Sunshine Foundation (Toledo), Mennonite Health Alliance (Goshen) and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart). He greatly enjoyed his memberships to Zion Mennonite Church and Rotary International.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Ann; two children Audra (James) Mark of Elkhart, and Brian (Tonya) Miller of Boston, Mass.; four grandchildren, Alex Mark and Nicholas Mark of Elkhart and Tenley Miller and Sydney Miller, Boston, Mass.; three brothers, Robert (Norma) Miller of Wauseon, Ohio, Glen (Marilyn) Miller of Goshen and Dale Miller of Bellingham, Wash.; and two sisters, Ada (Andy) Brenneman of Lima, Ohio, and Marilouise (Virgil) Waidelich of Archbold, Ohio. He was preceded in death by his parents, Charles and Bessie (Frey) Miller, two brothers, Kenneth Miller and Marlin Miller, and a sister, Lois Short.

President Brenneman said Miller would be missed and remembered.

“I mourn his death even as I embrace the eternal hope he inspired in all of us who knew and loved him. We offer our prayers for Mary Ann as well as for his children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters. Virgil’s legacy of servant leadership will forever live on in the lives of future graduates of Goshen College. For his Christ-like life, we are eternally grateful.”

The family suggested that memorial contributions go to Goshen College or the Mennonite Economic Development Association (MEDA).

— Written by Richard R. Aguirre

Editors: For more information about this news release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College Director of Public Relations Richard R. Aguirre at (574) 535-7571 or


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit