John C. Miller Scholarship

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John C. Miller loved collecting rocks and polishing them from the trips he used to take. He likened the rocks, in fact, to making an investment in students.

“Picking up a rock off the ground is sort of like your first contact with a student,” John told The Volga Tribune in 1964, just eight years before he passed away. “It might seem a little crude on the surface, but you can’t tell what it has to offer until you’ve done a little cutting and polishing. It might turn out to be the prize of your collection.”

Now, John’s grandson Jeff and his wife Margot hope a scholarship fund they have established in John’s name will help students across the state of South Dakota to get an education and work to make not only themselves—but also their communities—better.

The scholarship in his honor is one of many funds that John’s family has established, all of them with a mission to support students. “South Dakota Community Foundation has been a great partner for our family,” said Jeff, who established the scholarship to honor his grandfather’s legacy. “They have good fiduciary management, are well-known and we trust that my grandfather’s legacy will continue well into the future.”

John was a modest man, and he liked to get things done. “He really accomplished a great deal in his community and he really emphasized the importance of education throughout his life,” Jeff said. “He believed school was a pathway to a better and brighter future.”

That is one of many things that John passed down to Jeff, and the rest of the Miller family. “We, too, believe that those who have access to education can better contribute to society.”

Jeff’s grandfather spent his life devoted to the students around him, and he would have been proud to know his work is still making a difference. “He wasn’t in education for the money,” Jeff said. “He knew that you could enrich yourself through other means, but that it was important to have an education to build off of. My grandfather was very proud of being from South Dakota and he was committed to the community.”

John was the first in his family to attend high school, and after enlisting in the military, he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics with a minor in education. For the next four decades, he either served as a principal or a superintendent in six South Dakota school districts. He eventually earned a master of arts degree from the School of Education at the University of South Dakota. John’s wife Mildred Lien was also an educator. He died in 1972.

“My grandparents set a standard of excellence and generosity for future generations of our family, and I believe, in the students they served,” Jeff said. “My wife Margot and I believe that education is the single most important thing you can garner in your first 20 years. My grandfather showed me that.”

And helping others achieve an education is at the heart of John’s legacy. “We love being able to help advance the importance of education in our society today,” Margot added. “If we can help somebody make their lives better so they can in turn do that for someone else, that’s what we want to do.”