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Former Drake president Wilbur Miller dies


Des Moines native Wilbur Miller, who led Drake University during a significant period of development from the early 1970s to mid-1980s, died Sunday at the age of 94. 

Miller, a proud Drake alumnus and visionary leader, helped shape Drake’s campus during his 13-year tenure from 1972 to 1985. Many of the university’s prominent landmarks — the Harmon Fine Arts Center, the Olmsted Center, Olin Hall of Biological Science, Cartwright Hall, the Bell Center, and Aliber Hall — were built under his leadership, and Howard Hall underwent renovations. 

The transformation was so significant that students who attended Drake before Miller was hired would have a hard time recognizing the campus after he retired.

“We were in old houses,” he said in a 1985 Drake Blue magazine. “We were in Cole Hall. The English Department was scattered all over. … One thing that’s happened [during my time as president], without a question, is that we’ve made Drake a campus, and I think a reasonably attractive campus.”

An East High School graduate, Miller attended Drake from 1941 to 1943 and St. Louis University from 1943 to 1944. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946. He then moved to Denver, Colo., where he spent 26 years at the University of Denver. He was awarded his B.S. degree in business administration in 1948, M.A. degree in psychology in 1949 and Ph.D. in experimental psychology in 1953, all from the University of Denver. 

His many honors include the Drake University Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 1974; the University of Denver’s highest alumni award, the Evans Medal; the Distinguished Service Award of the Colorado Psychological Association; and the Danforth Foundation Special Grant for Administrators; and an honorary doctor of laws from the University of Denver.

The Miller family will host a private memorial service. Memorial gifts may be made to Drake University. Visitors to that website may also leave a note in the “Gift in Memory of” section in memory of Wilbur C. Miller. More information about Miller can be found on the Iles Funeral Home website.

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