Leading by example

Nov 20, 2012

Jim ’55 and Wilma Miller challenge others to give back.

Jim '55  and Wilma MillerJim and Wilma Miller have established the James L. and Wilma D. Miller Endowed Scholarship Fund.  The scholarship will provide annual assistance to upper-class Kettering students who need financial aid in order to complete their degree programs.  Jim’s desire to assist future Kettering students was inspired, in part, by comedian Danny Thomas, but primarily by his appreciation for the financial support he received as a student at Kettering/GMI. 

In 1958, Jim met Thomas in Atlanta, Ga.  Thomas was the impetus behind the establishment of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as his way to give back to the community because of his personal success.  Jim and his family have been active supporters of the hospital for many years. 

In order to stay in school, Jim utilized loans from a program established by General Motors.  “If I hadn’t had help,” Jim states, “I would’ve had to drop out of GMI after I married a lovely legal secretary at the end of my second year.”  Accordingly, the Miller Scholarship Fund was designed to help promising students finish their studies.  The Millers have also established a similar scholarship fund with the Experimental Aircraft Association, of which Jim has been a hands-on participant for 57 years, building and repairing more than 29 small airplanes during that time. 

Jim hopes his efforts will have a similar impact on others as Thomas’s had on him.  “I have asked myself,” Jim adds, “where would I be today if educational financial assistance had not been available?  I was far from the only student to benefit from the loan program, and I would challenge all Kettering/GMI Alumni who have achieved professional success to contribute to this fund or create a similar opportunity through a gift of their own.”

Jim graduated from Kettering/GMI in 1955 with a B. S. in Mechanical Engineering.  For nearly 40 years, Jim enjoyed an outstanding career in mechanical engineering.  He worked for numerous, industry-leading companies, such as General Motors, Bendix Corporation, Ford Motor Company and Sandvik -- a Swedish manufacturer of tungsten carbide tools and equipment.  At Ford, he was heavily involved in designing and manufacturing the 1955/1957 two-passenger Thunderbird as well as the 1957/1959 retractable hard top.  Jim was also involved in engineering a wide range of products, such as atomic weapons, large heat transfer equipment, large pipeline and power plant valves, and cooling towers for power plants.  Furthermore, as project engineer, Jim helped design and construct the first nuclear power plant for Kansas City Power & Light, where he worked for 18 years before retiring as Senior Mechanical Engineer in 1994.

Since 2004, the Millers have been members of the Heritage Circle.  Kettering University created the Heritage Circle in 1995 to honor alumni and friends who have arranged a gift to the University by will, trust, gift annuity, insurance policy, pooled income fund, retirement plan or IRA, or otherwise through their estate.

Jim and Wilma reside in Kansas City, Mo.  They both remain active participants in aviation-related activities.  Jim is a major stockholder in a privately-owned commercial and general aviation airport and works closely with two nationally-recognized aviation museums.  Together, they share three sons, one daughter and two grandsons.

Contact: Ken Zahrt