To honor his wife, a schoolteacher, and the teachers who mentored him at Penn Charter, an OPC established an unusual, no-strings-attached, $5,000 teacher gift.
By his own reckoning, Warren F. Miller Jr. OPC ’65 was sinking by the mid-point of his first year at Penn Charter, failing all of his courses.
He had done well at Roxborough’s William Levering School for the first seven years — and did well enough on the Penn Charter entrance exam to be offered financial aid to cover 80 to 90 percent of the tuition. But, eighth grade at this new school was a challenge that made his stomach churn on Sunday nights, anticipating the rough week ahead.
“I studied when I got to Penn Charter,” Miller recalled in a recent interview. “But, I was overwhelmed, particularly with math and science. I was odd. I didn’t fit in. I was poor. My clothes didn’t fit in. My parents’ car did not fit in. Penn Charter in the ’60s felt like an old boy’s club. I wasn’t an athlete, and most of the other students seemed much smarter than me.”
Enter Russell Faber, his eighth grade history and homeroom teacher. Faber intervened and helped Miller get through that first year. When Miller reached the Upper School, the role of mentor-supporter was assumed by William “Fuzzy” Lane, who was an English teacher and Dean of Students.
“I was a plodder and a plugger,” Miller said, “but each year I got better.”
That experience with a special teacher, one who “extends extraordinary kindness, encouragement and support” resonated with Miller and led him to endow a teacher recognition award fund at Penn Charter. The first award, of $5,000, was announced this year and went to Upper School English teacher Shahidah Kalam Id-Din.
While his Penn Charter mentors were inspirations, Miller named the award after another teacher, his wife, Barbara Hancock Miller. Barbara, who began teaching in the 1970s and recently retired, was a middle school and special education teacher in the Hanover School District and the Southwestern School District, both in York County, Pa.
“She loves teaching,” her husband said. “She wants to nurture and develop the person and build a relationship with kindness and compassion. That is as important to her as her students learning to read, write and be competent in math.”
Miller himself taught school, while he got a master’s degree from Villanova University. But his father was a funeral director and the son had worked in the business since he was 12. Miller became a funeral director too, and currently operates and works in funeral homes in the Hanover and Lansdale, Pa.
Miller and his charitable foundation wrote a $100,000 check to Penn Charter last year to endow the Barbara Hancock Miller Teacher Recognition Faculty Award Fund. He has yet to tell his wife. “When I get the right time, I will tell her,” he said, adding, in so many words, that he expects to get yelled at when she does find out.
One unusual aspect of the award is that the recipient is not required to use it to further their education, or finance a sabbatical or for another teaching-focused purpose.
“They can go to Vegas or take their spouse on the honeymoon they never had. Get a diamond ring,” Miller said insistently. “I want no strings attached.”
The award is not to make them better teachers, but to reward them for being special teachers. PC
THE TEACHER RECOGNITION FUND is the second Miller-endowed fund. The first was established in memory of the Miller’s late son, Bennett Tyler Miller.
Income from the Bennett Tyler Miller Memorial Scholarship Fund “will provide a scholarship for an eighth grade student, preferably from the Roxborough or Manayunk area, who is beginning his or her studies at Penn Charter. Warren Miller received grants that allowed him to attend Penn Charter. His parents’ decision to send him to Penn Charter, financial support from the school, and the sacrifices from his family made all the difference in his life.”