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Franklin Miller, Famed Professor, Dies at 100

Franklin Miller, Famed Professor, Dies at 100

By Julie France and David Hoyt

Franklin Miller Jr., a professor emeritus of physics and a fixture in the Kenyon and Knox County communities for over six decades, died on Thursday, Oct. 4 at the Autumn Health Care Center in Mount Vernon in the company of his family. He was 100 years old.

Miller, who earned his bachelors degree in mathematics from Swarthmore College in 1933 and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1939, was instrumental in the development of Kenyons physics department. When the College hired him in 1948, he was one of only two professors of physics at Kenyon. He remained with the department until he retired in 1981.

Franklin formed the backbone of [the physics] department, said Millers longtime friend and colleague Professor Emeritus of Physics Thomas Greenslade Jr. He did a lot when he first came here. He had a heavy teaching load because it was just him and Elbe Johnson who taught a full physics major.
Miller was born on Sept. 8, 1912, along with his twin brother Henry, in St. Louis, Mo. There, his father, Franklin Miller Sr., a judge and a lawyer, and his mother, Maude Barnes, a writer, raised him.

Over the course of his career, Miller helped welcome new members of the growing department. In 1964, Miller invited Greenslade and his wife to his home in Gambier, now the Crozier Center for Women, after a cocktail party in honor of Greenslades job interview at Kenyon. At eight oclock, we all went into the back room, Franklin turned on the television set and we watched The Ed Sullivan Show because they had four young men from Liverpool, Greenslade said. They banged on drums and played on guitars and told me how they wanted to hold my hand and we said, Yep, Beatles, weve never heard of The Beatles, and then went back and started to drink sherry again. That was my introduction to Kenyon, really.
Although Miller belonged to the department of physics and made great contributions to that field, including authoring six editions of a popular textbook, College Physics, he was a man of many other interests. He just never could do one thing at a time, longtime friend Professor Emeritus of Classics Bill McCulloh said. I remember seeing him in the evening hed be watching TV, and grading proofs and listening to music on headphones at the same time.

An amateur violist, Miller considered music to be an integral part of his life. Along with his wife Libuse Lukas Miller, who died in 1973, he organized weekly meetings of a string quartet in their home. He loved especially the so-called Haydn quartets of Mozart, McCulloh said. McCulloh, a fellow violist, still plays on an instrument Miller sold him in the late 1960s.

Although the membership of the quartet has changed over the years, Miller continued to play until his 96th birthday in 2008, when McCulloh, previously a violinist, took over for him on viola. He gave up driving at that same time, McCulloh recalled. The whole village sighed a sigh of relief when he stopped driving.

Miller valued the importance of community, a philosophy he realized in many ways. An outspoken Quaker pacifist who declined an invitation to assist with the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, Miller continued to speak out for causes even 60 years later, when he participated in a campus anti-Iraq War demonstration.

Miller widely shared his knowledge of physics with the general public by presenting a series of open lectures on quantum physics and producing a series of short films about topics in physics. Any high school physics student is aware of the dramatic collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940, but you would not have seen it fall if it had not been for Franklins work, Greenslade said. In 1963, the National Science Foundation gave Miller a grant to create 19 films portraying phenomena, including that of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, for the physics classroom. The American Association of Physics Teachers gave Miller the Robert A. Millikan medal in 1970 for these educational films.

Miller was also influential in bringing a more accessible medium to Gambier: television. Miller supervised the construction of TV antennas on many Gambier homes as a community service. He wanted to provide [residents] with an aerial that would give them adequate reception out here in the wilds, and so thats the one that he arranged to have put up for us, McCulloh said, gesturing to the towering antenna that still adorns his home.

Miller also took it upon himself to publish the complete collection of the English Singers, a madrigal group from the 1920s, in CD form, which was then sold at the Kenyon Bookstore. Miller sold the English Singers records in college and, therefore, acquired almost the entire record collection to aid in the CD publishing.

Miller will not have a public memorial service, according to his son, Franklin Miller III. Millers body will be donated to the Ohio State Universitys College of Medicine for research and training purposes, a true testament to his passion for science. He was very much oriented toward living simply and using his resources to help the community, McCulloh said. You might say thats his last gesture in that direction.

Looking at his fathers contributions and experiences, Franklin Miller III summed it up simply. What a great life. What else could you ask for?

Miller is survived by his son; daughter-in-law, Judy Miller; and his grandsons, Franklin Miller IV and Christopher Lukas Miller. Donations in Franklins memory may be sent to the fund for the Franklin Miller Award given to students who make unusual or significant contributions to the academic environment of the College Division of College Relations, Kenyon College, 105 Chase Ave., Gambier, Ohio, 43022.

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