Historically significant; Friends of the Fort to honor longtime friends Fred Campbell and Don Miller

Friday, October 5, 2012
Local historians Don Miller and Fred Campbell, seen here at the Fort Scott National Historic Site, will be honored by the Friends of the Fort Scott National Historic Site during the fourth annual Friends Fest on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Crooner's Lounge.(Jason E. Silvers/Tribune)

Longtime friends and historians Don Miller and Fred Campbell will be honored by the Friends of the Fort Scott National Historic Site during the organization's fourth annual dinner and fundraiser, Friends Fest, on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Crooner's Lounge, 113 S. Main St.

The event will include a dinner to be served starting at 6:30 p.m., and a program honoring Campbell and Miller scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. The event raises money for the local nonprofit organization formed in 2009 to support the historic site's mission.

"It's always an honor when you're recognized by your peers," Miller said. "Fred and I have certainly been close friends for probably 40 years or more."

Miller said he first got to know Campbell when he completed his student teaching in 1964 at the local junior high school. Miller left that year after earning his teaching degree to work in Coffeyville, then returned to Fort Scott in 1977 to begin a full-time job teaching American history at the junior high school, where Campbell was principal at the time. He hired Miller because he needed a history teacher and knew "the best person for the job."

"We've been friends for quite some time," Miller said. "We kept track of each other from '64 to '77."

Miller also coached football, basketball and track at the high school level for several years. He taught American history classes at Fort Scott Community College from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. He retired in 1996 from teaching at FSCC, but didn't retire from the public school system until 2003.

Campbell said he is "especially pleased and proud" to receive the honor.

"It's something I didn't expect, but I'm certainly honored to have them choose me and my good friend, Don," he said. "The Friends are such a historic group ... That makes it even more special."

Campbell taught American history as well before becoming principal of the junior high school, a position he held for about seven years. He then served as superintendent of schools in Fort Scott for 12 years until he retired in 1993. Both former teachers have also spent time over the years taking local students on field trips to teach them about local history.

The two former educators have spent the last four decades or so working to preserve Bourbon County history and pass those bygone times on to others. They collaborated on the book, "Historic Reflections of Bourbon County," published in 2005.

"Both Miller and Campbell have left a positive legacy in our community through their excellent work as educators. They have both lived their passion for history as authors, speakers, researchers and guardians of unique memories that make Bourbon County a special place," Friends of the Fort Scott National Historic Site Secretary Martha Scott said in a news release.

"You couldn't ask for a nicer thing to happen to you from a group of people who are die-hard history people, and who do a lot for the fort that they can't do at the fort because of financial restraints," Miller said. "They're involved in a lot of behind-the-scenes things that really make the town go."

Miller and Campbell said they relied on each other's talents and knowledge in various areas in putting together their book on Bourbon County history from 1842 to the present. Campbell did most of the writing while Miller was in charge of finding the photos.

"Fred kept writing and writing and writing, as long as I kept finding pictures," Miller said.

"As time would have it, Don developed a special interest and special ability to select historic pictures and documents that would relate to Bourbon County history," Campbell said. "I developed an interest in writing text explaining those pictures, through the written word."

Miller's expertise is in the downtown area and its historic buildings, while Campbell said he had "more of an interest in what happens in small townships and small towns from the Civil War era."

"He's my go-to person for downtown or anything in town," Campbell said.

Miller was also responsible for the book makeup and Miller's wife helped index it, Campbell said.

Miller said the book was initially supposed to be about half its size and released in paperback. The finished product was 288 pages and includes 502 photos.

"The people of Bourbon County were absolutely phenomenal (in) offering pictures and information (for the book)," Miller said.

Campbell said he and Miller had talked about the idea of the book for many years, but didn't start working on it until they were both retired.

"It was one of those dreams we had," Campbell said. "Of course, I retired first, then Don retired." About a year went by, and Campbell finally told Miller, "We've got to do this."

"We never realized it would ever happen," Campbell said. "It was one of those pie-in-the-sky things. And we had time to do it."

Campbell said he and Miller "learned so much about Bourbon County history" through their work on the book project.

"But not until we got out and started talking to people; and that's what it is, a people book," Campbell said. "This county is full of history."

Both men had nothing but good things to say about each other and the friendship and experiences they have shared over the years.

"He's great to work with," Miller said. "He's the most knowledgeable person on Bourbon County history that you can find. And he's a terrific teacher, too, because he doesn't teach history, he paints history; you can see it happening. I owe my success as a teacher to him. He has really been inspiring."

Campbell said he taught a night class at FSCC from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, which Miller would later take over.

"When I left, Don continued to teach that," Campbell said. "We've been doing the same things for a number of years."

Campbell said he admires Miller's "enthusiasm for anything he does."

"He knows 110 percent," Campbell said. "Whether it's taking a group of kids on a tour, or taking a walking tour downtown. He's always prepared and steeped in what he's talking about. He makes you get enthused because he's enthused. And he always has a history project. That's what makes him so much fun to work with.

We started from those student teaching days. I've enjoyed my relationship with him all these years."

Miller said he was always particularly intrigued by Campbell's stories about the American Revolution.

"He brought the human side of war or strategy and the mistakes that were made," Miller said. "He showed the human side of what happens in history."

Friends Fest is open to the public and attendees will get a chance to "roast and toast" Miller and Campbell during the meal.

Membership in the Friends organization is not required to attend, but seating is limited, the release said.

Doors will open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased at the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce, 231 E. Wall St., life+style, 22 N. Main St., and Country Cupboard, 12 N. Main St.

The Friends will offer memberships to the organization and Christmas ornaments created by Iola artist Gary Hawk at the event.