Magazine Feature / People

Millsap was a bridge between University, students

Ken Millsap’s worst habit may have been that he would show up for dinner or a party about 15 minutes early, says retired DU professor Steve McCarl.

Beyond that, the political science professor emeritus was considered a “delightful guy who loved students” and a man former students called their role model. “I think the critical part is how successfully Ken bridged the gap between students and the institution — a very rare quality,” says Doug Frank (BA ’76).

Millsap, who chaired the political science department for six years in the 1970s, died July 24. He was 91.

“Dr. Millsap was clearly one of the most popular faculty members at DU, as he spent zero time trying to create a distance between himself, his department and his students,” Frank says. “The closer you got to him, the easier it became to realize that you weren’t just another student in an uptight educational environment. His warmth and generosity certainly exceeded any potential gains that resulted from delineating students from faculty.”

Millsap retired from DU in 1978 and returned to his farm outside Iowa City, Iowa.

“He was a cheerful man with a great deal of patience. I don’t recall ever seeing him angry about any one or anything,” McCarl says.

Ken Millsap was born July 9, 1918 in Bloomfield, Iowa. He was the first person in his family to attend college. His family couldn’t afford to send him to the University of Iowa, so he attended a junior college first, says his son, Bob Millsap (BA ’76).

After junior college, he received a tuition scholarship and earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Iowa. He served in the Army in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II. After the war, he was appointed a captain in the Army Air Force Reserve.
He married Florence Elizabeth Eden in 1942. “They were just an adorable couple,” says Millsap’s former student and friend Mike Smith (BA ’77). They would have celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary this month.

Millsap began his teaching career at Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, in 1947 and also taught at Michigan State College, California State College and Iowa State University.

He put his study of political science into practice by getting involved in local politics. He was a former assistant city manager in Iowa City, and he also served as a member of the Iowa City Civil Service Commission. Although students believed Millsap to be “a liberal conservative,” the only beliefs he imposed on students was activism. “What he really believed is that [people] needed to get involved,” Smith says.

“He had a vibrant sense of humor coupled to a pragmatic spirit. He did not seem to think along ideological lines as some political scientists do,” McCarl says. “He was a traditionalist prone to experimenting with new ideas: a conservative of sorts, I suppose one could say.”

During his time at DU, the political science department was the largest undergraduate department on campus. “Students responded to him. He was a favorite teacher, an adviser and a friend,” Smith says. Smith, who majored in business and communications, considered Millsap his adviser although politics wasn’t even his main interest.

“During his last year at DU, a group of us went to dinner every Tuesday night [at a place where] we ate chicken-fried steak for $1.99,” Smith recalls. “We were really curious about how things worked at a University, and he would tell us.”

Millsap consistently attended student events even when faculty members rarely showed up. “He was also a fixture at DU hockey games and you could depend upon him to act without decorum if he disliked any particular call by the referee,” Frank says. “[He was] just a very real person.”

In addition to his wife, Florence; he is survived by sons Bob and John; their wives Deborah and Tammy; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations can be made to First United Methodist Church of Iowa City or Iowa City Hospice.

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