There are times not even Terry Miller can recall all the turns his life took before he was named the Pacific Lutheran University dean of nursing 15 years ago.
The randomness of the trip includes a degree in zoology, a brief military career, a short stint as an Oklahoma City policeman and one miserable stretch as the manager of the Day and Night Grocery.
Before any of that wild ride, Miller lived with his parents in a Studebaker before they settled in Ada, Okla.
There, the man many credit with turning the PLU program into one of the most prestigious in the Northwest spent five years struggling in school for the simplest of reasons. He couldnt see.
I was a C student until fifth grade, when I took my first eye test. They tested me and said This kid cant see the blackboard! Miller said. Once I got glasses, I could read, and I probably read a hundred books from fifth to sixth grade.
Miller excelled through high school and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1971 with a zoology degree.
There was one field zoologist in Oklahoma employed that year, Miller said. It wasnt me.
By that time he was married and a father, unemployed but not unwanted. The Army drafted him and sent him to basic training. There, he had the only major asthma attack of his life and passed out.
When he woke, not even the Army wanted him. Miller was honorably discharged and returned to Ada humiliated.
Oklahoma City was looking for policemen. Miller interviewed. He was a college grad, knew how to handle guns and was hired on the spot.
He was assigned to the governors mansion. When the governor was home, Millers job was to guard him. When the governor was out of town, Miller guarded the mansion.
One time he was out of town and a protest spilled inside the gates at the mansion. I went out there with a sawed-off 10-gauge sawed-off shotgun, he said. It was getting out of hand. I put the shotgun in the stomach of the protest leader and I said, I know one person is going to die here today you.
They moved on, but I was sick over it. What if Id killed that man? The next day, I quit.
And went to work managing a grocery store.
I started wondering, Is this it? Miller said.
A friend told him about a nursing program and suggested he could get a scholarship.
I didnt even know men could be nurses, Miller said. I took the scholarship and in 1974 became a registered nurse.
His first nursing job was in San Diego, making $4.75 an hour. Before long, he was back in Ada without his wife, who had left him. He was told hed make a great nursing instructor, if only he had a masters degree. So he earned one.
Now remarried his wife, Julie, was also a nurse Miller taught at San Jose State University, then became an associate dean. In 1994, he earned his doctorate.
Four years later, he was hired at PLU and inherited a program with 162 students.
We were not producing the kind of graduates who were wanted or needed, Miller said. It wasnt the students fault. It never is. It was the facultys fault.
Since then, the School of Nursing has put a high value on clinical work. When Miller arrived at the Parkland campus, even some instructors hadnt done any.
Today, our students have about 1,000 clinical hours experience before they get a degree, he said.
Out of every 100 graduates now, 90 find work quickly. Some dont want to move, wont leave the Northwest. That takes longer.
There are 31 instructors in the program, including Miller. Only five were teaching when he arrived.
How popular is PLU among student nursing applicants?
We get 600 applicants for about 80 openings year, Miller said. We dont just look at GPAs. Ive had two homeless students graduate here, including a young woman who lived under a bridge in Tacoma.
We have conditional admissions, where students are given the opportunity and must get a B or better in each class they take. Theyre diamonds in the rough.
So was I.
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638