Miller, John E., 1945-2020

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Miller, John E., 1945-2020

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John E. Miller was born March 28, 1945, in Beloit, Kansas to Channing and Mildred Miller. As the son of a Lutheran minister, he grew up in several towns in Kansas, Illinois, and Missouri. Miller received a B.A. in history from the University of Missouri (1966) along with an M.A. (1968) and Ph.D. (1973) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While pursuing his education, he also served as a court reporter in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and taught for the University of Maryland Overseas Program (1969-1970).

After receiving his Ph.D., Miller spent a year as a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of Tulsa (1973-1974). In 1974, Miller accepted the position of assistant professor of history at South Dakota State University. He was promoted to associate professor in 1978 and full professor in 1984. He taught courses in historical methods, South Dakota history and U.S. history focusing on the 20th-century. He retired in 2003, however, he remained on staff as an adjunct professor for a short time to teach the South Dakota history course. In October 2003, the South Dakota Board of Regents bestowed Miller with the title of Professor Emeritus of History. After retirement, he taught numerous Osher Lifetime Learning Institute (OLLI) courses.

Miller was a prolific historian; he authored, edited and reviewed numerous books and articles, mainly on history, but also on politics, creativity, literature and small-town life. His most noteworthy books included: Looking for History on Highway 14 (1993), Small Town Dreams: Stories of Midwestern Boys Who Shaped America (2014), Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind
the Legend (1998) and Democracy’s Troubles: Twelve Threats to the American Ideal and How We Can Overcome Them (2020). He also wrote South Dakota State University: A Pictorial History 1881-2006 for South Dakota State's 125th anniversary in 2006.

In addition, Miller also conducted hundreds of hours of oral history interviews with national and local individuals. He interviewed World War II veterans; South Dakota State University administrators, faculty and staff; and residents of small towns in South Dakota, including Miller, Bruce and Harrold. He also interviewed people such as George McGovern, Philip La Follette, Rollie Samp, Theodore Schultz, Frank Denholm, John Bibbey and Frank Farrar. In addition, he directed the Department of History's Brookings Oral History Project in the 1970s.

He was involved with many professional organizations such as the South Dakota Humanities Council, the South Dakota State Historical Society, Phi Kappa Phi, the Midwestern History Association and the Dakota History Conference. He also served on many church and community committees.

During his impressive career, Miller received several awards. These include the Burlington Northern Foundation Award for Excellence in Research (1988), the Mountain Plains Library Association Literary Contribution Award (1993), the South Dakota Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Research (2000) and the Herbert S. Schell Award for the most outstanding article in South Dakota History (2001). For his book, Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend, Miller won the WILLA Award in 1999 for the best scholarly non-fiction book on North American West women writers. He was also a finalist for the WILLA Award in 2009. In 2003, he was presented with the Robinson Award, the highest and most prestigious honor given by the South Dakota State Historical Society. In 2015, Miller was awarded the Frederick Jackson Tuner Award for a lifetime achievement in the field of Midwestern history by the Midwestern History Association.

John and Kathy Miller married in 1972 and raised two children, Ann and Tom. John Edward Miller died May 1, 2020, at his home in Brookings, South Dakota.


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