Dr. Earlynn Joy Miller

April 13, 1941April 19, 2021

Dr. Earlynn Joy Miller 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 will be cremated and her remains will be interred privately. There will be no services. Lindsey Funeral Home in Harrisonburg is handling arrangements. Condolences and memories may be sent to the family by visiting


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Dr. Earlynn Joy Miller

have a memory or condolence to add?

Tom Brenneman

May 6, 2021

20 April 2021

Earlynn J. Miller. Daughter of the plains of the midwest. A familiar horizon known between us. Yet here we are nestled between mountain ridges in the Shenandoah Valley. We too shared a fence line between her rambling backyard of sculpture and discovery and my tenant farm, that over a decade, found more holes and permeable passages as we built connections and friendship through art, farming, dance, democratic politics, food and laughter.

Earlynn and her partner Don. My muses.

Word comes that Earlynn died. Our founder of dance at JMU, our benefactor of many art, community and justice building events. A steady presence in moments of need. A quiet shepherd of many persons' visions and dreams manifesting in programs of education, art, food justice and more that have inspired and nurtured thousands.

Our Earlynn who through dance helped us all weave a deeper connection to our bodies, spirits, the earth and each other. Her absence hurts. The memory of her infectious laughter, broad smile and fierce passion for creativity and life. A legacy I found through our common fence line. With love to you Earlynn.

My heart is with you Don as you grieve the loss of your muse Earlynn.

My love to you.

Tom Brenneman

Aniko Safran

April 29, 2021

Dear Don,

I was shocked and saddened to hear of Earlynn's passing. She was always so joyful and full of life. I will miss seeing her at arts events. I am so glad that my daughter and I had the opportunity to paint with the two of you in Barb's workshop at Spitzer. Every time I take my daughter to a modern dance concert, lately they've been virtual, I think fondly of Earlynn.

My deepest condolences.

Anikó Sáfrán

joanne carr

April 28, 2021

A visionary, a joyful soul and a light in every life she touched. She will be sadly missed.

Bob Bersson

April 28, 2021

I can’t really comprehend Earlynn not being with us, her smile, her warmth, her positive nature, her enthusiastic presence at so many arts events in the area. Happily, I enjoyed two full days with Earlynn and Don in May 2018 on a fun- and education-filled JMU Lifelong Learning weekend tour of Staunton. She and Don were such lively, full-fledged participants that I am stunned that Earlynn is no longer here. I only remember her as healthy, full of life, the whole remarkable person, a memory I and probably many others will cherish forever.

Renee Monger

April 26, 2021

I met Dr. Miller in 2002 when I was a student at Mary Baldwin. Often I would go to her house with Professor Irene Sarnelle who was the dance professor at Mary Baldwin and we would borrow costumes for different dance events we were having. I was in charge of keeping track of what we were borrowing and loading everything into the van. Needless to say not an easy task with these 2 ladies, but I really enjoyed spending time with them because I was always learning new things. Overtime I started to work for Dr. Miller and I really got to know her. I did everything from organizing costumes to working out in her yard, and even helping to prepare things for the amazing parties she would have. I loved visiting with her to see all the things she was doing to her house. Overtime she said to call her Earlynn and she would sometimes introduce me to others as her granddaughter. Later, I married and had 2 boys who are now almost 10 and 12. She gave us beautiful art pieces at the boys baby showers that are proudly hung in our home. Our boys on occasion would visit Earlynn with us, but this always made me nervous because I did not want the boys to break anything, but she always seemed relaxed when we would stop by to say hello. My husband Randy who also likes to dabble in the arts really liked going to Earlynn’s house, and she always was interested in the art things he was working on as well. I have so many fond memories of being at her house, and attending many dance things at JMU with her and Irene. I am a 2nd grade teacher, and I enjoy teaching my students many of the dances I learned while attending Mary Baldwin. Both of these ladies were huge parts of my life. Even though they have both passed away I owe a lot of who I am today to both of them. I am sure they are in heaven discussing one of the many dances they did together, along with how the costumes have to be just right. I will miss your laugh, and how you always made me feel special when we were together.

Michael and Violet Allain

April 25, 2021

Dear Don,
We were so very sorry to hear of Earlynn’s passing. We miss her vibrant and positive personality. Please accept our sincerest sympathy. She will be missed by many.

Mike and Violet

Diane Spresser

April 24, 2021

Earlynn’s devotion to the arts was admirable. She was an accomplished dancer and scholar, always willing to share her talents with others. I knew her first as a colleague at JMU, but even after we were both retired, I ran into her many times — sometimes at the Forbes Center, but often just around town. She always had a smile and the kind of warmth that just made me want to stop and talk with her for awhile. Whether at her dance concerts or in a causal encounter, she always left me wanting more. She was a lovely person.

John Crawford-Spinelli

April 24, 2021

Dr. Earlynn J. Miller was Chair of the Dance Department when I attended JMU for my Master’s degree and I was one of her graduate assistants. I will always remember her generous spirit, wonderful laugh and positive outlook on life and art. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, she truly inspired me to reach beyond what I could do and to seek a career as a dance professional which eventually led me to my position as Dean of the College of the Arts at Kent State University. Earlynn was a wonderful positive influence in my life and I treasure the memories of her - especially when calling out the Big Circle Mountain Square Dance we all loved to perform. She has touched so many lives. May her memory be eternal.

Sharon Ratner

April 24, 2021

I met Earlynn when I ran the Dance Office at JMU. I remember her helping a male student, who had a keen interest in dance, and also needed some extra support at the time. My other vivid memory is her standing with great posture while smiling in her folk costumes.

Mary Lou Wylie

April 24, 2021

Earlynn was a wonderfully generous person. I knew her when we both taught at JMU, but I got to know her better after we retired. The Faculty Emeriti Association has a wine group that meets every month at members' homes. Earlynn volunteered to host the group several times, and she loved showing people around her art-filled house. Her house was definitely the spot that members did not want to miss, both for her art and for the delicious snacks she provided. I will remember her as always smiling, always sharing, always kind.