Thankful for help when they needed it, Kansas City couple “pay it forward”at Kettering University -- inspired by the late actor Danny Thomas

FLINT, Mich. – Kansas City couple Jim and Wilma Miller recently established the James L. and Wilma D. Miller Endowed Scholarship Fund at Kettering University in Flint, Mich.

The scholarship will provide annual assistance to Kettering upperclassmen who need financial aid in order to complete their degree programs. Miller’s desire to assist future Kettering students was inspired, in part, by the late actor and comedian Danny Thomas, but primarily by his appreciation for the financial support he received as a student at Kettering/GMI.

In 1958, Miller met Thomas in Atlanta, Ga. Thomas was the impetus behind the establishment of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as his way to give back to the community because of his personal success. Miller and his family have been active supporters of the hospital for many years.

In order to stay in school, Miller utilized loans from a program established by General Motors. “If I hadn’t had help,” he said, “I would’ve had to drop out of GMI (now Kettering University) after I married a lovely legal secretary at the end of my second year.” Accordingly, the Miller Scholarship Fund was designed to help promising students finish their studies. The Millers have also established a similar scholarship fund with the Experimental Aircraft Association, of which Miller has been a hands-on participant for 57 years, building and repairing more than 29 small airplanes during that time.

Miller said he hopes his efforts will have a similar impact on others as Thomas’s had on him. “I have asked myself,” he added, “where would I be today if educational financial assistance had not been available? I was far from the only student to benefit from the loan program, and I would challenge all Kettering/GMI alumni who have achieved professional success to contribute to this fund or create a similar opportunity through a gift of their own.”

Miller graduated from Kettering/GMI in 1955 with a B. S. in Mechanical Engineering. For nearly 40 years, he enjoyed an outstanding career in Mechanical Engineering. He worked for numerous, industry-leading companies, such as General Motors, Bendix Corporation, Ford Motor Company and Sandvik -- a Swedish manufacturer of tungsten carbide tools and equipment. At Ford, he was heavily involved in designing and manufacturing the 1955/1957 two-passenger Thunderbird as well as the 1957/1959 retractable hard top. Miller was also involved in engineering a wide range of products, such as atomic weapons, large heat transfer equipment, large pipeline and power plant valves, and cooling towers for power plants. Furthermore, as project engineer, Miller helped design and construct the first nuclear power plant for Kansas City Power & Light, where he worked for 18 years before retiring as Senior Mechanical Engineer in 1994.

Miller and his wife, Wilma, reside in Kansas City, Mo. They both remain active participants in aviation-related activities. Miller is a major stockholder in a privately-owned commercial and general aviation airport and works closely with two nationally-recognized aviation museums. Together, they share three sons, one daughter and two grandsons.

About Kettering University Kettering University is a nationally-ranked Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Business university in Flint, Mich., and a national leader in combining a rigorous academic environment with rich opportunities for experiential learning and cooperative education. For more information, visit


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