Barbara Jane Miller obituary

Contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Photo of Barbara Jane Miller.

Jane Miller at WMU in 1990

Barbara Jane Miller, Western Michigan University's first lady for 13 years and widow of WMU's third president, died Feb. 14. She was 98.

Miller, of Palm Desert, California, was fondly known as Jane or Janie by family and friends. She has been described as a remarkable, self-effacing individual with a passion for civil rights and at the same time for adventure and tackling new challenges.

The Celina, Ohio, native came to WMU in 1961 when her husband, James W. Miller, was named president. He preceded her in death in 1993.

Jane Miller

Miller was born Jan. 1, 1919, and grew up in Minneapolis, where she  attended the University of Minnesota and studied pre-medicine as well as met her future husband. She and James married in 1941 and lived in East Lansing, Michigan, while James was comptroller for the state and then the secretary of the Regents of the University of Michigan.

After the family relocated to Kalamazoo, Miller volunteered at WMU, helping to set up a program teaching newly blind persons techniques to navigate their homes and relearn basic life skills.

She also was a dedicated volunteer at local hospitals and involved with numerous presidential functions, receiving such notable WMU guests as Coretta and Martin Luther King Jr., Betty and former President Gerald Ford and the Baroness von Trapp, along with many other foreign and educational dignitaries.

In addition, Miller accompanied James to Nigeria in the 1960s, when WMU was involved in developing technical institutes in that country. During her stay there, she used her medical background to assist the local Red Cross in creating "bush" health clinics in the Hausa area of northern Nigeria.

President Miller's years at WMU from 1961 to 1974 were characterized by exceptional institutional growth. It was a busy time for the University and the first lady, as WMU moved from being a teacher-training school to a comprehensive university, more than doubled its enrollment, and expanded and improved its buildings and grounds though more than 37 construction-related projects.


Services have taken place in California.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Sierra Club Foundation or to Red Rover, a California nonprofit that provides services to animals and their owners in need.

The family obituary and message book are available online by visiting