Miller nearing 48 years teaching on the Hill

Marry Ellen Miller waits for students to arrive in her Advanced Poetry Writing class in Cherry Hall Tuesday morning. Miller has been teaching at WKU for almost 48 years, making her the longest-serving employee at WKU. “My students are my inspiration,” Miller said.

Spencer Jenkins

After almost 50 years at WKU, Mary Ellen Miller jokes that her grave will be at the top of the Hill in Cherry Hall.

“I plan on dying in the classroom,” said Miller, an English professor. “I can’t think of anything else I’d want to do in retirement.”

Miller started part-time employment at WKU in the fall of 1963 and is now completing her 48th year on the Hill. She is the longest-serving employee at WKU.

Miller teaches four classes this semester, but she has also taught general education English courses and masterpieces in American literature throughout the years, she said.

“I have about 100 students right now,” Miller said. “All my students now and in the past have been very important to me – I feel very akin to them. I feel very related to them professionally.”

Cincinnati senior Josh Robinson said Miller’s Advanced Poetry Writing class is the best course he has taken at WKU.

“This is a 9:30 class, and I get up at 7 for it,” he said.

But Miller said she figures most of her students think of her as a “nutcase.”

“If I set myself on fire in front of Wetherby to protest the administration, my students wouldn’t be surprised,” she said. “I am a child of the ‘60s – we protested.”

In contrast, Miller said some of her students and colleagues seem very old-fashioned.

“Maybe that’s why I like my writing students so much – they are kinda quirky,” Miller said. “Some of my colleagues are placid and passive, but not all. Some of my best friends are the youngest people in the department.”

Associate history professor Patricia Minter said Miller has been an important mentor and friend to her.

“She rules. She absolutely rules,” Minter said. “I always try to live up to the standard she set.”

Minter said Miller was the first female faculty regent. Minter now has that position.

“She’s a pioneer in the sense of female leadership,” Minter said. “I don’t have to break down some doors, because she has done some for us.”

Deborah Wilkins, chief of staff and general counsel, said she’d heard of Miller before she actually met her. Miller and other women in Bowling Green formed one of the first feminist groups in town.

“She’s a wonderful teacher, and I think that’s a talent that a lot of people aspire to – she’s a pro at it,” Wilkins said.

Miller – a native of Carter County in northeastern Kentucky – ventured to WKU in 1963 with her late husband, Jim Wayne Miller, who taught German.

“I had a master’s degree in English – it was the only thing I was qualified to teach,” she said. “It was the love of my life – literature, writing, poetry.”

In the years that Miller has been employed, she has lost both parents, her father-in-law, two brothers, one sister and a nephew, she said.

“The tragic loss was the death of my husband in his 50s,” Miller said. “I would love to have him two more days.”

They met in college in the late 1950s. She said she was the more mature one in the relationship.

“We talked about writing; we talked a lot about poetry,” she said. “We didn’t have the usual kind of hobbies – he loved to fish, and we had a boat where we’d go on Barren River Lake to picnic.”

Miller still cherishes her love for the water, even after her husband’s death in 1996.

“I love to swim,” she said. “I promise myself I’m going to go to the pool, but it’s awkward to fit in my schedule.”

Now, Miller is working on a reader of her late husband’s literary work, she said.

She said she doesn’t really have a single high point in her career, because every day is a high point.

“Yesterday was my highest point in my career,” she said sarcastically.

After almost 48 years, Miller still has the same love for literature and people she’s had since day one, she said.

“It makes me feel like I’m doing what I love. It’s not just about literature – it’s about colleagues,” she said. “I love being around people that are interested in the same thing I’m in.”