R. Dean Elliott '66 and '71, Vincette Goerl '71 and P. Lee Miller '66
The winners of McPherson College's highest honor share a commitment to hard work and an independent spirit.
The McPherson College Citation of Merit is given to the college’s most distinguished alumni for lifetime accomplishments in service to profession, community, church and to McPherson College. The recipients are recommended by the Alumni Awards Committee and approved by the College Board of Trustees. The 2011 recipients are P. Lee Miller, R. Dean Elliott and Vincette Goerl.
P. Lee Miller P. Lee Miller comes from a long line of farmers – back to at least great-grandfathers and possibly beyond. So when Miller attended college, he knew what he wanted to study – agriculture. He decided to attend McPherson College because of his relationship through the Church of the Brethren at South Waterloo, Iowa. The philosophy that had him hitting the books and working part time in college is still the philosophy that guides him as a farmer today.
“You work until the work’s done,” he said. “And then you play after that.”
After graduation in 1966, Miller returned to Iowa and founded BarLee Farms in 1969 with his wife, Barbara. During the last four decades, they have raised corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs on some of the same land they first rented in 1969, as well as land that was also farmed by Miller’s father. To Miller, the appeal of farming is freedom, community and making a good living.
“You’re your own boss,” he said. “If you want to take the afternoon off or a day off you can do that, but somebody has to be there to make sure the work gets done.”
His McPherson College education has proven valuable in his farming life, he said, not just with what he learned, but discovering how to learn it.
“You might not know or remember everything,” he said, paraphrasing his agriculture professor, Dr. John Ward. “But you’ll know how to find what you’re looking for.”
Since his graduation from McPherson he has served on the boards of the Coop of Hudson, Farm Service, Member’s Mutual Oil Company, Iowa Farm Business Association, Iowa Cattlemen Association, Black Hawk County 4-H Fair. He is also a member of the Rotary Club of Waterloo and was a local 4-H Club leader. He continues to actively serve the Church of the Brethren in South Waterloo where he has been moderator and a church board member.
He and his wife support young people with an interest in farming by volunteering and financially supporting both 4-H and Future Farmers of America. Miller’s son is a farmer now, and his daughter, while now a teacher, was certainly a farm girl, Miller said. The traditional family line of farmers continues.
R. Dean Elliott For R. Dean Elliot, owning his own business for more than 30 years has meant freedom, even if sometimes it's the freedom to work 80 hours in a week.
"I think some stress is good for you," Elliott said. "And being a business owner, there definitely is stress."
Elliott, a 1966 alumnus, is the owner of Elliott Insurance and Real Estate in McPherson, Kan., and said that despite the hard work owning a business has required, he values the independence.
"I didn't want to work for somebody else. If I fail or if I succeed, I want it to be because of what I did," Elliott said. "It's a lot of stress and time, but I wouldn't change it."
In his business, Elliott is focused and goal driven, a skill that he first developed at McPherson College. At first, he often took classes that didn’t count toward his major – soon prompting his advisor to ask, "Dean, what are you doing here?"
With his advisor's help, Elliott focused in and graduated in industrial arts. He later went back to school and received a degree in business administration in 1971 from McPherson College.
After graduation, Elliott quickly discovered his preference to work for himself after putting in time as a draftsman, industrial engineer, bank examiner and cashier.
Since starting his business, Elliott has steadily built a positive reputation for the agency by being listening carefully and giving honest answers – even when the honest answer is "I don't know." He has also served in the community as president of the Independent Insurance Agents of McPherson, president of the McPherson Lions Club, board of directors for the McPherson Country Club and chairman of finance for the United Methodist Church of McPherson.
"I think we earn our reputations," Elliott said. "If it's a good one you earned that. If it's a bad one you earned that, too. You have to treat people the way they want to be treated, sometimes better."
Vincette Goerl There's an old saying – "May you live in interesting times" – that matches well with Vincette Goerl's experience in college.
A 1971 graduate in history and political science, Goerl had the opportunity to watch history developing around her as she attended college in the midst of the Vietnam War.
"It was also a time when McPherson had a variety of students from all across the country – a lot of them from the east coast," Goerl said. "It was for me a very interesting time. I met lots of very fun, interesting people."
That exposure to a wide variety of ideas led directly to her decision to move to the east coast after graduation – and the high-profile career that followed.
"I went to this college that opened a world that I don’t think I would have been given the opportunity to look at and work in otherwise," Goerl said. "I'm a strong believer in liberal arts education. I think that gave me a great basis to be successful."
Starting as a clerk in the US Navy, she soon moved on as a budget analyst in the then-new Environmental Protection Agency. That led to a series of financial management positions, culminating with her selection to serve on the financial management team for Vice-President Al Gore's National Performance Review in 1993 – an initiative to make the federal government more efficient and cost less. It marked some of the first analysis on how to use technology to improve communication and information sharing in government.
"All those things that we take as a given today were brand new," Goerl said. From there, she went on to become the first chief financial officer at the U.S. Customs Services in 1994, and was in charge of an annual budget of $5 billion – quickly reforming the organization to earn its first clean financial audit.
"It was fun," Goerl said. "It was a great job."
She also served as the first Chief Financial Officer at the U.S. Forest Service, before retiring in 2001. Today, Goerl is the director of consulting at CGI Federal, a consulting firm to the federal government, and has been a strong supporter of women's issues – serving a Chair of the Virginia Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, supporting a home for battered and abused spouses and their children, and helping women re-entering the work force. "I felt a responsibility to be a mentor," she said. "To be a leader in those kind of ways where I could be helpful."
She's also given back to McPherson College with commitments of both money and time – she served on the board of trustees for 12 years, seven of those as chair.
"I wanted to give back to the college," she said. "Because I think the college gave me a tremendous amount. You never forget where you come from."