Earlynn Joy Miller, 80, died April 19, 2021, at Sentara RMH in Harrisonburg, VA. Born April 13, 1941, Earlynn was the only child of Gwendolyn I. and Earl J. Miller of Peoria, IL.
Dr. Miller grew up in Peoria, Illinois, where she took classes in the arts. She developed a special interest in dance and earned a B.S. in physical education and dance from the Illinois State University in 1962. She furthered her education in the arts at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she obtained an M.F.A. in dance and art in 1963 and an Ed.D. in dance, art and research in 1969.
Dr. Miller began a thirty-year career as a full-time dance faculty member at James Madison University (JMU) in 1969. Her hiring inaugurated a dance program with a minor and major and a department of full-time faculty. She retired with faculty emerita status in 1999.
Throughout her teaching career, Dr. Miller directed modern and folk dance ensembles with an emphasis on collecting, transmitting, and costuming folk dance. She took dance ensembles on performance tours throughout Virginia and neighboring states and traveled with community dancers and JMU students to Europe, performing programs of American Folk Dance in Greece, Germany, and Denmark. Dr. Miller retired after thirty years of vibrant dance activity at JMU.
In 1988, she was chosen as National Dance Association Scholar. She was an honor award recipient for her professional leadership in the Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (VAHPERD), was on the Board of Directors of the Shenandoah Valley Folk Arts Revival Society, and was a founding member and served on the Advisory Board of the North American Federation of German Folk Dance Groups. Her last year of teaching was particularly rewarding for Dr. Miller; she received the distinguished teacher award from the College of Arts and Letters for 1999-2000, the 1999 Friends of the Folk Arts Award from the Folk Arts Revival Society, outstanding Professional Award for 1998-99 from the School of Kinesiology and Recreation Studies, and a concert dedicated to her career.
Eight years into retirement the National Dance Association (NDA) of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance named her their 2007 Heritage Award Recipient. This prestigious award is given each year to a nationally recognized professional artist/educator. The ceremony at the NDA’s national convention included a program of speeches and performances by Dr. Miller's former students and professional colleagues, spanning 44 years of professional involvement in the arts.
In retirement, Dr. Miller gave generously of her time and finances to the arts at JMU. Her named gift, the Earlynn J. Miller Dance Theatre in the Forbes Center, allows dance students the opportunity to attend class and perform in a state-of-the-art space. Her establishment of
the Dr. Earlynn J. Miller Scholarship for Dance supports students in their pursuit of a dance degree. She came to know the students she supported personally through scholarship luncheons and attendance at their performances.
Following her retirement, Dr. Miller focused her creativity on her residence in Harrisonburg; over the next 17 years, she designed and implemented extensive changes, transforming it into a showplace of art. These changes included the addition of a dance studio, an enclosed sun porch, a therapy pool, an extensive rear garden featuring kinetic sculptures, and a rain garden ─ an ingenious method of using rainwater from the roof of her house to benefit her entire garden space. The inside of her home became her palette; she decorated every room with paintings and sculptures from local and international artists, as well as covering them with an amazing array of beautiful tiles.
Once she was satisfied with the changes to her home, Dr. Miller turned her creativity toward painting. In the next five years she completed a collection of abstract, experimental and collage work. She was very humble and would not permit her work to be exhibited publicly nor
sold; she maintained that the work was for her own pleasure. At the same time, Dr. Miller said that all of the arts are what she loved the most and wished to share with people. Her generosity has shown that to be the case.
Honoring her wishes, she was cremated at the Lindsey Funeral Home in Harrisonburg, VA and her ashes will be interred at Swan Lake Gardens in Peoria, IL. There will be a graveside celebration of life August 3, 2021 at 11:00 a.m.
Cumerford-Clary Funeral Home in Peoria, IL is handling arrangements.