WVU-P holds ceremony for former president

PARKERSBURG – Friends and colleagues remembered Eldon Miller as a man who was instrumental in making West Virginia University at Parkersburg what it is today.

More than 50 people gathered Wednesday in the college’s multi-purpose room for a remembrance ceremony to honor the former college president who served from 1982 when it was Parkersburg Community College to 2000 after it became West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

Miller was WVU-Parkersburg’s longest-serving president before his retirement.

Miller, 77, passed away on May 31 at his home in The Villages, Fla. He was buried in his hometown of Gettysburg, Ohio.

Miller was instrumental in the college developing its relationship with West Virginia University to become a regional campus of the university, many said.

”In some ways, Eldon Miller touched the lives of everyone gathered here today and his contributions live on,” said Joseph Badgley, former interim president of WVU-P. ”He came into an environment that was not a typical community college.

”With a great deal of patience and exercising all of his counseling skills he was able to unite the college and the community around the vision of becoming a true comprehensive community and technical college,” he said.

Badgley said some people questioned what Miller wanted to accomplish, but Miller saw what the college could be and began a plan, which resulted in the building of the multi-purpose room, a library and the Caperton Center For Applied Technology.

”Now, is that vision or what,” Badgley said.

Miller was loyal to his friends and the community who in turn embraced him.

”He listened to people,” Badgley said. ”When the conversation was concluded you felt he really heard what you had to say.”

When Miller came here, there was interest throughout the community in creating a baccalaureate institution in Parkersburg, but it had failed a number of times.

”Eldon learned early on that everything in West Virginia is political, except politics which is deeply personal,” Badgley said. ”In what will go down in history as one of the most remarkable achievements in higher education in this state, Eldon was able to meet the needs of the community and taking the college back to its roots to a relationship with West Virginia University which continues to this day.”

Judy Higgs, dean of students emerita for WVU-P, said as people move forward, their burdens can be eased by the gifts of Miller’s life.

”Those can be shared by each one of us in different ways,” she said. ”Our prayer is one of gratitude for the wisdom of Eldon’s leadership for this college … as a forward-looking president.”

Bernard Allen, professor emeritus of history and philosophy at West Virginia University-Parkersburg, spoke, via a conference call from his home in South Carolina, about Miller’s role in providing leadership and stability in growing and developing the school. He also mentioned Miller working with the state Legislature to create opportunities for the school.

”Eldon Miller played an important role in providing higher education opportunities,” Allen said. ” That will be his legacy.”

WVU-P President Marie Gnage read remembrances of Miller from former West Virginia University President Neil Bucklew and George Kellenberger, former president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley.

Keith Burdette, secretary of commerce for West Virginia, said he was in the state Senate in the early 1980s when he met Miller. His initial impression of Miller was someone who was laid back and not likely to rock the boat.

”Upon reflection, my initial thoughts about his nature were very much on target,” Burdette said. ”But I certainly underestimated his ambition.”

Burdette said Miller once laid out a rationally structured plan in the late 1980s to create a regional campus of WVU.

Such a venture was tried before and was considered a failure, Burdette said of his initial reluctance to the idea.

”For an hour, I sat and listened,” he said. ”Miller was methodical in how he approached the problems.

”What Eldon understood before the rest of us did was a relation with WVU could accomplish what we couldn’t quickly do otherwise. He knew the community needed to see an expansion of its programs and an expansion of four-year degrees in Parkersburg. He knew the alignment would give instant credibility to our graduates,” Burdette said.

Miller said WVU would strengthen its presence in this community; this time the benefit would be the local college’s, Burdette said. The affiliation is now strongly recognized by many around the area and the state, he added.

”It has proven to do the things that Eldon wanted it to do,” Burdette said.