MURRAY, Ky. — Every institution has its heroes — the individuals whose legacies are carved into the very foundation. At Murray State University and in the greater community, Dr. Marvin D. Mills, Sr., was just that: a hero with an enduring legacy.
A portrait of Mills currently hangs in the Multicultural Center on campus that is named for him. It is positioned so that it looks out as students gather in the center together: completing homework, working on projects or simply enjoying each other’s company. The portrait is a reminder — one of many both tangible and intangible — of the lasting legacy Mills left on the University.
Mills passed away Sept. 3, 2018, at age 97. His legacy will continue to live on at Murray State through scholarships, organizations and departments on campus as well as in the lives of countless students impacted by his generosity and spirit.
“Dr. Marvin D. Mills was an inspiration and mentor to many students throughout his outstanding lifetime of service to Murray State University,” said Murray State Interim President Bob Jackson. “The University community extends its heartfelt condolences to the Mills family as Dr. Mills will forever be part of our Racer family. His legacy lives on in our continued mission to best serve our students in a community of inclusion, diversity and excellence.”
The Dr. Marvin D. Mills Scholarship was first established by Mills and his wife Eunice to cover tuition, housing and dining costs for scholarship recipients. The couple’s contributions also supported the establishment of the Dr. Marvin D. Mills Emerging Scholars Institute, which is designed to address and meet the needs of the University’s multicultural student population while assisting them in their transition from high school to college. The overarching goal of both the institute and the scholarship is to see all participating students thrive and succeed, ultimately crossing the CFSB Center stage and earning their degrees.
“We want new students coming in to understand the importance of Dr. Mills: what he did and how he set the stage for them to be successful,” said Dr. Don Robertson, vice president for student affairs. “He paved the way and provided opportunities for folks. And that legacy continues on.”
The Marvin D. Mills Multicultural Center is home to the Office of Multicultural Initiatives, Student Leadership and Inclusive Excellence. The objective of the center and the office at large is to support multicultural students by providing opportunities for leadership development, cultural competency and academic success. It is a mission Mills supported throughout his life.
“Dr. Mills is a classic example of how you take a person and he becomes a point of collaboration for so many different things,” said Dr. SG Carthell, executive director of multicultural initiatives. “He supported everybody.”
Mills taught at Murray State from 1977 to 1988 as one of the University’s first African American faculty members, according to Carthell. During that time, he was instrumental in helping to establish and develop the University’s nationally recognized Department of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH).
“He was instrumental in starting the OSH program here, which is one of our most successful programs for our students of color,” Carthell said. “Students that get in that program are extremely successful and get really great jobs. And he was aware of that: creating that natural pipeline for students of color to be successful while helping everybody.”
Mills continued to stay involved with the University following his retirement through his service as a board member for the Murray State University Foundation. He returned to campus frequently, visiting at least once per year to meet with students and share stories, while continuing to recruit prospective students to the University in his day-to-day life.
“I think he had a relationship here because he saw the student experience at Murray State — how Murray State is a caring place, how it’s a true family,” Robertson said. “He would also hold us accountable to make sure we were providing the services and resources that students needed to be successful.”
Mills’ legacy was not limited solely to campus, though, as he played a significant role in the greater Murray and Calloway County communities through his efforts with organizations like the public library and Playhouse in the Park.
“He was impactful not only at the University but with the whole community,” Robertson said.
In addition to his time as an educator at Murray State, Mills taught at New York University, West Virginia State College, Marshall University and the University of Cincinnati. He also worked for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and for the Center for Disease Control.
His service as a World War II veteran and former corporal of the U.S. Army earned him international recognition. In January 2018, Mills received France’s highest merit: the French Legion of Honor medal, awarded by Chicago’s consul general of France for Mills’ duties as a military police officer during WWII and for his commitment to assisting the French community and police force once the war concluded. Mills also served during WWII in North Africa and Italy, earning several prestigious medals for his service.
“He will be remembered for his exceptional scholarship, service and leadership,” said Dr. Alicia Carthell, senior instructor of English.
Mills is survived by Eunice J. Mills, his wife of 71 years, and a host of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Those interested in making a contribution to the Dr. Marvin D. Mills Scholarship to afford opportunities to Murray State students can visit murraystate.edu/giving to make a secure gift online or call toll-free at 1-877-282-0033 to give.
Do you have memories of time well spent with Dr. Mills? Did Dr. Mills play a role in impacting your life? Email your stories and memories of Dr. Mills to the Office of Branding, Marketing and Communication at firstname.lastname@example.org.