Out on a high note
By Sharon Coy
Blade Staff Writer
In 1965, before Cloud County Community College had its own building and campus, it was a part of Concordia High School.
Then CHS vocal music instructor Everett Miller was a part of this college's early beginnings, teaching music part-time to its first students.
When the college was built in 1968, he went on to become its full-time vocal music teacher, a position he has held for 48 years. Miller will be retiring at the end of this school year, leaving countless musical memories behind, particularly of the groups he directed each year, which from the beginning were called The Great Society Singers.
Miller began his career as an educator in his hometown of Bison where he taught K-12 music for four years. The man who had been coach there when Miller graduated from high school was the principal when he returned after obtaining his degree from what was then Ft. Hays State College. He described this principal as someone who encouraged him in his profession.
After leaving Bison, Miller taught vocal music for one year at Harrison Junior High School, grades 7, 8 and 9. He received his Master's Degree in 1963 from the University of Idaho, before moving to Concordia.
Because he had a Master's, he was qualified to teach at a junior college so he took the full time position when the college opened at its new building. He earned his Ph.D. from Kansas State University in 1976.
Miller said the Great Society came into full bloom during the 1968-69 school year. In its early years folk music was popular and the group had no keyboard, only guitar and banjo accompaniment. They followed the New Christy Minstrels in their style and arrangements. "Today," and "Green Green" were among their many hits that the first group sang. Miller is a friend of the Minstrels' founder Randy Sparks and still talks with him occasionally.
When folk music became less popular, the Great Society adopted a different style, singing songs made popular by such artists as the Ray Conniff singers.
"We changed our style about every 10 years, according to whatever was popular at the time," Miller said. This year's group has been singing songs that were popular in 2010 and 2011.
Jolie Caspers, a former Great Society member who runs a dance studio, was hired 10 years ago to handle choreography for the singers. Like their music, the group's performance outfits also have varied according to whatever is in style.
The Great Society has always given concerts in high schools around the state and when someone asked Miller why they never gave concerts at home, the fall and spring concerts in Concordia began and became a twice-a-year tradition.
Their high school concerts were usually given in schools where members once attended, where Miller said they were appreciated by both the students and teachers.
"When I first took the job at the college, I was told by the board that they wanted me to get a music group together that could go out and promote Cloud County Community College," Miller said. "I think we've done that."
Not only has the Great Society promoted the college in area high schools, since 1970 the group has a performance record that has taken them to numerous U.S. locations as well as many foreign countries.
These include World Expos in New Orleans, Vancouver, B.C.; Brisbane, Australia; Shanghai, China; and Seville, Spain; the Invitation Home and Garden Show in Japan, Bulgaria, a folk festival in Boulder, Colo., America's Showcase/Wendy's in Columbus, Ohio, and Six Flags Over Texas in Dallas.
"No tax dollars were used for any of these trips," Miller said. "The students paid their own way."
In the past 40 years the group has presented 1,280 assembly programs in area high schools with an average of 200 students per program, making a total of approximately 265,000 students who have heard the Great Society.
"We've had really good response at the schools," Miller said. "One principal this year told his students when they go to college, they should seek out these groups and become a part of them."
The Great Society usually numbers between 25-35 members. Miller selected members through auditions and said he tried to use everyone who was interested.
"The students were exciting to work with," Miller said. "They told me what they wanted to do."
The first group adopted the name, The Great Society. While at one time, the administration suggested the name be changed because it had political connotations, Miller left it up to the students. They liked what they were called so connotations or not, the name did not change.
While directing The Great Society is probably what Miller will be remembered best for in his time at CCCC, he also had other duties. These included teaching general music, music appreciation, guitar, vocal music and for a few years he even taught instrumental music and directed the pep band until a new instructor was found.
Reflecting on Miller's many years of service both to the college and to the community, CCCC Director of Humanities Susan Sutton said, "No one will ever outdo his tenure here at the college or top his model of civic engagement. After 48 years, he's definitely left his mark."
Miller and his wife Marlene have three children. Their son, Shaun has taught English as a Second Language for 15 years in Cheju City, Korea on Cheju Island. He plans to return to the U.S. this year.
Their daughter, Taunya teaches English as a Second Language in Daejon, Korea, and their other daughter, Paula, is a hairdresser in St. Joseph, Mo. The Millers have six grandchildren. They have made nine trips to Korea to visit their children.
One of the first things Miller plans to do when he retires is organize all of The Great Society's recordings and put them on CDs. He also wants to get all of the videos on DVDs and put the still pictures in albums.
Miller serves the Concordia community in a number of ways. He is a member of the Brown Grand Theatre board of directors, is a volunteer for the Concordia Concert Association and is active in the Camp Concordia POW Preservation Society. In addition, he directs the choir at the Concordia Lutheran Church.
The final Great Society Concert at Home directed by Everett Miller will be at 7 p.m, April 13, at the Arley Bryant Gymnasium at the college. A reception to honor Miller's retirement after 54 total years of teaching with 48 directing the Great Society Singers will follow the concert in the T-Bird Café.
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