Baker alumnus transitions to director of facilities at Kauffman Center
Bill Miller, ’90, felt right at home at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in May, when country band “Restless Heart” performed alongside the Kansas City Symphony in the 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall.
A native of Mustang, Okla., in the land of country and western, Miller is most comfortable wearing Wranglers and cowboy boots. As the director of facilities at the world-class venue known more for hosting premier symphony, Broadway, ballet and opera performers, Miller rarely gets to kick up his boots.
Aside from deciding on clothes for the Kauffman events, Miller has adjusted quite well to life in the 285,000-square-foot facility with two main performance halls. With nearly a half million visitors and several hundred events in the first year, his new job is far from routine.
“I come in and turn on the lights,” he said. “After that, it’s a different challenge every day. The symphony, ballet and opera performers all have different needs. I have to listen and determine how best to meet their needs.”
Positioned between downtown and the Crossroads Arts District, the Kauffman Center has revitalized a downtown section of the city.
“This facility has had a tremendous cultural and economical impact on the community,” Miller proudly noted. “Once we settled into a groove and reached our second season we are really thriving. We were coming off the completion of a huge construction project when I arrived. My background in leadership has been a good fit here. We needed someone to pull things together with facilities and operation.”
Despite the cultural shift, the Baker University graduate and former football player has successfully transferred the array of skills he developed throughout his 20 years in education as an English teacher, football coach, activities director and director of operations for Gardner Edgerton USD 231.
“I am a novelty here,” admitted Miller, who lives in DeSoto, Kan., with his wife, Tammy, and sons, Jackson and Carson. “There aren’t any former college football players on our staff, and all of my analogies are about athletes while other members of the leadership team use Yo-Yo Ma.”
In nearly two years overseeing facilities at the Kauffman Center, Miller has learned a lot about the arts and production. When he was a high school football coach, his main focus on the arts was making sure his players who had leads in the school play would arrive at rehearsal on time. Now his responsibilities include managing physical plant operations, utility consumption, contracted maintenance and engineering. He also coordinates facility operations with theater operations staff, performing artists and production staff. “I handle anything that is operational and not artistic.”
The son of two high school teachers, Miller was raised with education emphasized. He is completing his doctoral degree at Baker and enjoys sharing his Baker story with student groups touring the Kauffman Center.
“A liberal arts education allows a kid from Oklahoma who played football and was an English teacher to work in an environment like this,” Miller said. “I tell them not to limit yourself. You’ll never know where things will lead.”
Longtime Baker Connection
Miller has been familiar with Baker University since 1986. He knew he wanted to play football in college. When he and his parents visited the Baldwin City campus during his senior year of high school, they immediately felt a connection with the surroundings and the people they encountered.
“The trip convinced my folks that Baker would be a good place to be,” he said. “I had no idea at the time how competitive we would be in football.”
A two-time NAIA Scholar-Athlete at defensive back, Miller played on some of the finest Wildcat teams in program history. The Wildcats compiled a 37-7 record from 1986 to 1989, including three appearances in the national semifinals and a spot in the championship game his freshman year.
Through football, two of the first people Miller met were Dan and Peggy Harris.
Dan, an assistant football coach for Baker at the time, and Peggy, an education professor, were part of a volunteer group that served as “adopted” parents to out-of-state players.
Peggy and Miller also connected in the classroom, and Peggy supervised his semester student teaching English at Baldwin High School.
Peggy Harris, vice president and dean of Baker’s School of Education, is not surprised by Miller’s success or ability to lead and transition to a new career.
“He worked hard on the football field, in the classroom as a student and later as a teacher, and as an administrator,” she said. “I expect he brings this same level of commitment and pride in a job well done to his job at Kauffman Center. Bill is also very level-headed and doesn’t rattle easily. These skills combined with his problem-solving focus serve him well in his new position.”
Miller plans to participate in Baker’s commencement ceremony in May, when he receives his Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership. Nearing completion of his dissertation on constructing environmentally sustainable schools in a challenging economy, Miller refers to Peggy Harris as his “lifetime mentor” for “guiding me through education.”
After knowing Miller and his family for more than 25 years and closely watching his emergence as a leader, Peggy eagerly awaits spring commencement at the Collins Center.
“I look forward to congratulating Dr. Miller when he walks across the stage,” Peggy said.
No word on whether Dr. Miller will be wearing cowboy boots on that stage.