By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Even a year later, the wound left behind by the brutal murder of Goshen College professor James Miller still reverberates across the Goshen community.
His impact on others was shown well by the more than 100 friends, family and community members who turned out for a memorial service in Miller’s honor Tuesday afternoon on the Goshen College campus.
Exactly one year after the vicious home invasion that left Miller dead and his wife severely injured, strong emotions were still evident on the many faces and in the many voices of the people touched by Miller both through his home life and through his roughly 30 years as a well-respected professor of science at the college.
Gathering at what is known as the college’s Prayer Labyrinth, the ceremony began with a few brief comments from Pastor Bob Yoder, who spoke movingly on the overwhelming reach Miller’s influence had on his students and community.
“A year ago a horrific tragedy occurred that forever impacted the Miller family, the Goshen College community, and the many other people connected to Prof. James Miller,” Yoder said. “We gather today to remember a life that has been deeply missed, and a life that has left his mark on so many people.”
During his talk, Yoder also took the opportunity to unveil a new park bench and landscaping at the labyrinth site which was recently purchased and installed by the GC classes of 1962 and 2012 in Miller’s honor.
Yoder then turned the microphone over to former GC President Victor Stoltzfus, who served as a stand-in for current GC President James Brenneman, who was unable to attend the event.
“Pres. Jim Brenneman asked me to express his regrets in not being able to be here,” Stoltzfus said, “but he did find a way to be with us in writing a very meaningful prayer.”
In the prayer, Brenneman described the void left behind by Miller’s untimely death that can still be felt across the GC campus today.
“We remember Jim today on the anniversary of his untimely and cruel death. Words still do not adequately express our sorrow, nor silence convey our grief,” Brenneman said in his prayer. “Still, we are grateful to have known Jim, to have learned from him, our teacher, to have partnered with him, our colleague, to have cherished him as parent, to have loved him as brother, life partner, family. We dedicate this day, this sacred place, this Pilgrim’s Pathway, in his memory, and in his honor.”
Indigo Miller, a senior nursing student at the college, was one of two former student’s of Miller’s to speak during the memorial. During her talk, Indigo spoke of how Miller’s intense dedication to education coupled with his quirky and fun-loving teaching style helped shape and mold her as both a student and a person.
“To his students, Dr. Miller was an academically tough professor with an intense passion for education,” Indigo said. “He was known for giving detailed lectures and long multiple choice tests, yet he had a positive energy that fed our own passion as students. It was easy to roll our eyes at the comic strips and jokes which rolled through his PowerPoints, but I always found myself smiling at the cheesy punch lines. Weaving silly humor into our understanding of serious biological processes may have been a questionable move, but it made me rethink why we learned what we did in anatomy and physiology. He taught us what we needed to be educated nurses.”
Lacey Wisseman, a fourth-year nursing student in attendance during Tuesday’s event, said she was unable to attend the vigil held for Miller on the day of his murder last year, and wasn’t about to miss a second chance to pay her respects to one of her favorite and most well-respected professors.
“We dealt with it a lot last year, and it doesn’t even feel like its been a year already,” Wisseman said. “I think things on campus are still moving forward, although we still joke about how (Miller) would tell jokes in class. I lived over here in the apartments last year, and I still remember him walking with his Crocs, his big back brace and his goofy glasses. He was like my favorite quirky professor.”
Laverne Nafziger, a neighbor of the Miller’s, was moved almost instantly to tears upon speaking of what brought her out to Miller’s memorial Tuesday afternoon.
“My husband died three days before he did,” Nafziger said of Miller, her voice cracking with barely controlled emotion. “His wife Linda and I, we’ve cried a lot of tears together, so I just wanted to come out today to support Linda and to remember Jim.”
Living so close to where the murder took place, Nafziger said it would be easy to give in to fear when considering the fact that Miller’s murderer still remains at large. Even so, Nafziger said she is not going to let fear rule her, and urged others to do the same.
“I do not live in fear. I decided I can’t live in fear,” Nafziger said. “I think that it was a random act, and I think the police are doing everything they can to solve it.”
Taking a moment to speak to the press following the memorial, Linda Miller also spoke of moving from fear to healing when describing her and her husband’s attacker and the impact his actions have had on her and her family’s life.
“I think we’ll find him, I’m just not sure we’ll find him now,” Linda said. “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. I thought maybe in August we might have him. But I’m more concerned about us than I am about him. I don’t think finding the guy is going to make any difference in our lives.”
Even so, Linda was quick to note that the pain and heartbreak left behind by her husband’s absence is still very real. She said that without the many prayers and offerings of support that have been pouring in over the past year, she doubts she’d have been able to make it through the ordeal intact.
“I can on most days put it away, and then live my life,” Linda said. “I don’t think I realized how much it was going to hurt to have Jim gone, and how long the grieving process would be.”