Ray and Gail Miller have been the backbone of the science department at York College for three and a half decades. Between his classes in chemistry and hers in biology, the couple has influenced hundreds of students who went on to become doctors, physical therapists, dentists, researchers, chiropractors, and teachers of all levels. They have dedicated their professional lives to making an impact through quality scientific instruction in a Christian setting.

This fall York College will present the first Distinguished Achievement in Academics award to the Millers. The couple will be honored with a luncheon during Homecoming at noon on Saturday, October 20. Tickets for the event are $25 and proceeds will support the science department.

Dr. Shane Mountjoy, provost, notes that this new award recognizes recipients for their intellectual, spiritual, and professional achievements. “Through their service and in ways that are evident in the lives of their students, Ray and Gail Miller epitomize success,” said Mountjoy. “Their influence runs deep because their teaching, accomplishments, and lives are guided by their faith. A living testament to their legacy are the science graduates whose lives mirror those of the Millers, individuals who embody service, generosity, and faithfulness.”

After 35 years in the classroom and lab, Ray recently retired and was elevated to emeritus faculty status. During his time at York College, he’s worn many hats, including department chair, division chair, academic dean, and vice president for academic affairs. For many years, he served as a consultant evaluator for the Higher Learning Commission, an accrediting agency for colleges and universities in the United States. Ray also sponsored Sigma Tau men’s social service club, was the Songfest stage manager for 25 years, often kept stats at basketball games, organized quiz bowl competitions, and served as the faculty sponsor for Alpha Chi honor society. In his new role as emeritus faculty, he will keep office hours for tutoring and mentoring science students and will oversee the lab.

Science puns and bad jokes are part of Ray’s legacy. (A poster on his office door: “I’d make another chemistry joke, but all the good ones Argon.”) He has a no-nonsense, straightforward manner in the classroom and gives notoriously hard tests, but is quick with witty turns of phrase, good-natured sarcasm, and his signature chuckle.

Gail has been an associate professor of biology at York College for 24 years. Prior to that she taught courses as an adjunct faculty member while working on a master’s degree in Biology from Ball State University. She and Ray both earned undergraduate degrees from Harding University and Ray earned a PhD at the University of Mississippi. Gail served on the Nebraska Veterinary Medicine Board for ten years and has been a member of Delta Kappa Gamma, a professional organization for women educators for 24 years.

Beloved among students for her caring demeanor and the massive candy jars beside her office, Gail has been a popular club sponsor over the years, sponsoring Omega Phi, Delta, and Beta Beta Sigma by turns. Both she and Ray have mentored countless students, opening their office and their home for after hours study and counseling sessions. Gail’s legacy includes “In the News” segments presented frequently in chapel, where she brings the student body interesting headlines from the universe, the world, the country, the state, and York, Nebraska. Gail is also known for the field trips that are a mainstay of her botany and zoology classes. She regularly takes students to Nebraska’s unique educational attractions such as the Henry Doorly Zoo, Ashfall Fossil Beds, Sandhill Crane Trust, Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens, and Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center. “It’s really important for them to see real plants and animals, not just dead specimens,” she said. Besides, the students love getting out of the classroom, even if they have to write copious field notes about the experience.

The Millers have been recognized with numerous awards throughout their careers. Ray was presented with the Dale R. Larsen Teacher of Achievement Award in 2001 and Gail received the same award in 2008. The award is given annually to a full-time faculty member who has made outstanding contributions to York College. Recipients of the award are nominated by other faculty members and are considered on the basis of teaching, service, spiritual commitment, attitude, and dedication as demonstrated in activities outside the classroom. Similarly, Ray received the Second Miler Award (now called the Reppart Award for Service) several times. In 2008, Ray was presented with a professional achievement award by the Harding University Symposium of Faith and Science. In 2014, Gail was recognized for her service to the Nebraska Veterinary Medicine Board with an honorary decree from Governor Heineman naming her an Admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. 

The greatest reward, however, has been seeing their former students flourish in the professional world. They recently looked over a list of science grads from their years at York College and were astounded by the number of PhDs, MDs, and other advanced degrees earned. “You wonder, are we doing this right? Are they getting what they need? Are we short changing them somehow because we don’t have all of the equipment and opportunities they have at bigger universities?” Gail mused. “But then you see that list and you realize, yeah, we were able to give them what they needed.” In fact, she occasionally hears from recent grads who are pursuing additional schooling or are in internships that they are far better prepared than their peers from larger universities. “I ask them, ‘were you well prepared?’ They always say yes.”

Their success is also measured by the love students pour back on the department and the school, said Gail. “To see so many of them giving back to York College monetarily, giving so generously, that tells me we did something right.”

When asked about their favorite part of teaching at YC, both Ray and Gail say it’s the people. “I’ve enjoyed the association with students. Every year there are two or three who really ‘get it’ and we bond,” said Ray. 

“Being with a student in those moments when you can see on their face that they finally understand. That’s the best feeling,” said Gail. Meaningful relationships with students and alumni are special, but the Millers also appreciate their coworkers. “The friendships we’ve made with faculty over all these years have been wonderful,” said Gail. “The best people in the world work here.”

The Millers' two children, Les '00 and Lynn '02 both graduated from York College.