Elouise Miller retired from the Hays School District in 2009 after 60 years of teaching. She was born near Alton in northwest Osborne County in 1932. At age 17 she took her first teaching position. In 1970 she became one of the first teachers to wear a pants suit to school “I taught their class PE and I was down on the floor with her students a lot,” she recalled. “The request had to be passed by the school board, which required the pantsuit to match because I couldn’t wear just any pair of pants with a shirt.” It was a purple pantsuit.
Elouise was named a Kansas Master Teacher in 2007 and is also a member of the Kansas Teacher Hall of Fame. In her long career she taught over 2,600 students.
After 60 Years, Teacher Hanging Up Her Crayons
Diane Gasper-O’Brien, May 26, 2009, Hays Daily News:
There’s a laminated sheet of paper on a closet door in Elouise Miller’s classroom, displaying an excerpt from Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
It’s a teaching philosophy Miller has lived by for a lot of years.
And as Miller’s long career in education winds down this month, it’s been a principle often referred to the past several weeks by those who know her.
Miller, 78, has taught elementary school students for 60 years, including the past 53 in one building – Lincoln Elementary in Hays – and has taught more than 2,600 students during that time period.
She decided earlier this school year this would be her last year of teaching.
Not because of health problems or anything like that. In fact, just the opposite.
“I’m still having fun, but I have to retire sometime,” said Miller, who will turn 79 later this fall.
“I didn’t want to (take a chance of getting) sick and have a substitute have to fill in for me for a long period of time,” she said. “That’s too hard on the kids.”
It will be hard for those in Hays USD 489, especially at Lincoln, to imagine a school year beginning next fall without Miller.
But they weren’t thinking about next year yet this month, throwing party after party in her honor.
“You’d have thought no one ever retired before,” said Miller, who welcomed the many chocolate goodies her colleagues gave her in retirement baskets last week.
Everyone who knows Miller knows she’s been in the business of teaching youngsters a long time.
But an incident that made it clear just how long was when one of her students from her first class in Osborne County showed up at a reception for Miller earlier this month at Lincoln.
“She hasn’t changed in years,” Larry Nichols from Alton said.
Nichols was a second-grader in Miller’s first class at Liberty Bell School, 10 miles northwest of Alton, during the 1948-49 school year.
“I thought it was a neat coincidence that I could attend a retirement reception for my second-grade teacher and my 50th class reunion (from high school) in two weeks’ time,” Nichols said.
Kindergarten ‘a good fit’
After teaching first grade her first nine years at Lincoln, she moved to the kindergarten level in 1966.
She’s been there ever since.
It’s a good fit, said Miller, who likes the honesty of kindergartners.
“If they don’t like something, they’ll tell you,” she said.
“They’re eager at this age, and they like school,” Miller added. “They still have the same basic needs; they need love and attention.”
And Miller seems to have been born with an overabundance of those traits.
“You know the thing ‘everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten,’ ” fellow kindergarten teacher Heidi Wamser said of Miller’s adherence to Fulghum’s philosophy. “Totally true, totally true.”
Wamser, a former student of Miller’s, has gotten to teach in the room next to Miller’s the past three years.
Wamser’s oldest child, Easten, also studied under Miller his kindergarten year in 2007-08.
“I wouldn’t have had him anywhere else,” Wamser said.
That’s because Miller has firmly adhered to Fulghum’s fundamental ground rules.
Share, play fair, don’t take things that aren’t yours, put things back and clean up your own mess are just a few of the traits on Fulghum’s list that Miller pointed out last week.
“If adults would follow these, we would have a lot less problems in the world,” Miller said.
She tried her best for 60 years to make sure her students learned the basics of life.
Miller’s early life
Elouise D. Miller was born on November 24, 1930, one of six children in the Clarence S. and Laura Areta (Sparks) Miller family in Alton, Osborne County, Kansas, where she graduated from the local high school. After a nine week summer school course at Fort Hays State College Elouise began her teaching career at the age of 17. She first taught school at Liberty Bell, School District #81, and Mount Hope, School District #6, in rural Osborne County for two years, then five years at Woodston, Kansas. At age 24 she moved to Hays in 1955 to finish her bachelor’s degree at Fort Hays Kansas State College.
After two years of teaching in one-room country schools in Osborne County, then in Woodston for five years, she moved to Hays in 1955 to finish her bachelor’s degree at Fort Hays Kansas State College.
She got a job the next year as a first-grade teacher at Lincoln, where she stayed the rest of her long career.
The move to Hays was a big change for the small-town country girl.
“We went from no indoor plumbing and carrying coal for heat to this,” Miller said with a smile, sweeping her hand around her room that now features central air and heat, a restroom right off her classroom and all kinds of technological teacher aids.
She adjusted quite well.
Learning: A lifelong trait
Once in Hays, Miller set about earning her master’s degree in education, as well as an education specialist degree in reading.
Not long after receiving her specialist degree, Miller said a friend of hers tried to talk her into teaching at the college level.
“She said that anybody can teach kindergarten, and I wanted to bop her,” Miller said.
Miller, and anyone who knows her, would beg to differ.
Children learn best when they have a strong foundation of the basics, Miller said.
“It’s the same things my teachers taught me,” she said simply. “They just call it something different now.”
One of those “somethings” is the question of the importance of teaching phonics.
“I know it’s been in and out and in out out, but I think it’s important,” she said. “So I’ve always taught it.”
“A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time in her classroom,” said Fred Kaufman, superintendent of USD 489 since the mid 1980s. “At that time, my observation would have been that she may have been doing this for a long time, but she is ahead of us all.”
“She was doing things we thought we were just discovering,” Kaufman added, “and she’d been doing them for years.”
Miss Miller’s room
Miller’s classroom is a youngster’s dream come true.
Tables and pint-sized chairs are only a small part of this classroom, where a whole lot of learning is done away from their desk area.
In addition to the normal kindergarten curriculum, Miller still teaches her own physical education, art and music. An upright piano sits in the middle of the room.
Students call homemade cardboard study carrels their “private office.”
There is a stage, home to hundreds of puppet shows over the years, and a playhouse, complete with a small replica of a refrigerator, stove and sink and microwave.
An elephant made out of sawhorse and padding, Miller estimates to be more than 50 years old.
During activity periods, Miller splits up the students in different groups.
“That way, they find out everybody is fun to play with,” she said.
Sounds like that could be on Fulghum’s list.
He obviously had someone like Miller in mind when he wrote his book.
Life as a teacher
Miller never married.
“I always said (a husband) would have divorced me, because I’m here all the time,” she said.
Miller usually was the first staff member to school every morning.
“I’d plug in the coffee, and I don’t even drink coffee,” she said.
She also usually was the last to leave at night.
After a day of teaching, Miller would break up her evening with a trip to the swimming pool at Fort Hays State University for a round of aqua-sizing.
A lover of the arts, Miller regularly attends events sponsored by the Hays Arts Council and plays and musicals at the university and local high schools.
But if there weren’t any extracurricular activities on her schedule, she often would stop back by school on her way home from the pool.
“(School) is too close to every place I go,” she said with a smile. “It’s on my way home from church, from the store.”
“I just really like it here,” she said.
She’ll be back
Miller says she won’t be a stranger.
“I won’t substitute,” said Miller, who plans to travel in retirement.
She’s already visited all 50 states and every continent but Antarctica.
“But I’ll be back to visit,” she added.
Some teachers are glad for the end of the day, and the end of the year, to come.
She always taught right up to the last day, the last hour, the last minute.
This year was no different, directing the students as she accepted retirement gifts from parents as they came to pick up their children.
“Here, this is for you,” Austin Christian said, pushing a brown bear into Miller’s hands after his mom, Jessica Christian, gave her a plant.
“It’s going to be an adjustment next year,” admitted Elaine Rohleder, in her 16th year as principal at Lincoln. “Miss Miller knows exactly what to do, has this routine and knew what to do for these new kindergartners.”
Miss Miller memories
Miller plans to return to school throughout this week, to clean out 60 years of books and supplies.
“People are always asking to borrow things from me,” she said.
“They always say, ‘Go to Miss Miller’s room. She’ll have it,’ ” Miller said. “And I usually did.”
Miller glanced around one of several storage rooms in the school which she claimed as hers.
Many of her library books date back to the days of having 45 RPM records inserted in sleeves in their back cover.
“I’m leaving a lot of these books,” she said. “Someone will be able to use them.”
Those won’t be the only memories of Miller.
“We won’t have our sounding board, and we’ll miss that,” Rohleder said. “But we will never forget her. There are memories all around of Miss Miller. She’s going to be a legend.”
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Elouise D. Miller also taught Fort Hays State Summer Lab School and for the Hays Summer Reading programs. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree, Masters Degree and Specialist in Education Degree from Fort Hays State College. Elouise also studied at The University of London, Zhejiang University of China and on an Around the World Study Tour.
Her awards include: Outstanding Young Educator for Kansas; the Kansas Teacher’s Hall of Fame; Kansas Master Teacher; Who’s Who in America; the Phi Delta Kappa Cunningham Award; a Delta Kappa Gamma Scholarship and the Phi Kappa Phi.
Elouise was a member of the First United Methodist Church, United Methodist Women, the Sisters of Survivorship, Ellis County Historical Society, Sternberg Museum, the Hays Arts Council, Friends of the Hays Public Library, Cancer Council of Ellis County, a Life Member of National Education Association, a Life Member of Fort Hays State University Alumni, Past President of Hays Teachers Association and Past Delta Kappa Gamma State President. She was a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity of Ellis County, Community Assistance Center, Hospice Hays Medical Center and a Salvation Army bell ringer.
Elouise Miller passed away on Friday, May 1, 2015, at the age of 84 in the Hays Medical Center at Hays, Kansas. Her body was donated to the KU Medical Center in Overland Park, Kansas.
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Former Teacher Fondly Remembered
by Diane Gasper-O’Brien, Hays Daily News, May 3, 2015
She arrived at school so early she beat the morning janitor to work. She was the model to whom many turned, to learn how to teach kindergartners.
Talking about Elouise Miller, the rock star of longevity in teaching 5- and 6-year-olds, is easy for anyone who knew her.
This weekend was no different as people remembered the 84-year-old teaching legend who taught elementary school children for 60 years, and more than 50 in one building — at Lincoln Elementary School in Hays, a fixture in the first-grade and kindergarten classrooms.
Miller, 84, died Friday after a second bout with cancer. Her funeral services are set for 11 a.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church, Hays.
One of Miller’s favorite sayings was an excerpt from Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.”
Diane Frantz, a kindergarten teacher at Lincoln for 19 years from 1984 to 2003, said a lot of what she needed to know about teaching kindergarten, she learned from Miller.
“I could go on for days and days talking about what I learned from Elouise,” Frantz said. “I guess I could compare it to the depth of the ocean.”
Frantz, who now teaches kindergarten in the Phillipsburg school district, said nearly every day she thinks about something she learned from Miller.
“She had a natural ability to manage her students in a respectful, gentle and calm way,” Frantz said. “There were no discipline issues in her class.”
Frantz said Miller not only taught her students life skills, but her advice was heeded by adults as well.
“ ‘Be a role model, not only for your students, but for your school, family and community,’ ” Frantz said, quoting some of Miller’s philosophies. “ ‘Volunteer in your school and community when needed. And, eat lots of chocolate.’ Anyone who knew Elouise knew she loved chocolate.”
When she said teaching was her life, Miller wasn’t kidding. She never married. When she retired in 2009 at age 78, she said a marriage never would have worked because “I’m (at school) all the time.”
“She was so dedicated, she was always there before I got there at 7 every morning,” said Randy Pfannenstiel, custodian at Lincoln.
It wasn’t until after Miller retired that Pfannenstiel arrived at Lincoln in the mornings before Miller. But Miller continued to frequent Lincoln, and it was almost like she never left.
“She was always there,” said Kathy Clark, school nurse at Lincoln for 22 years before retiring in 2013. “She would come back to do recess duty, just to visit.”
“Oh, yeah, and everybody loved seeing Elouise. She was always so positive about everything,” said Elaine Rohleder, principal at Lincoln since 2000. “She would stop in every so often, to visit and reminisce.”
Now, friends and former colleagues are left to reminisce about Miller.
“She was a mentor for all of us,” Clark said, “not only for education, but for a lifestyle, caring about kids, people in general.”
“Elouise and I had a unique bond, even after leaving Hays,” she said. “She continued to give me great advice about teaching kindergarten and life in general. I can truly say she was my best friend and will be missed by many.”
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