Accent Stories

Matt Miller

Alumnus

Class of 1999

Matt Miller has been the mayor of the City of Ashland since 2017. And while his particular strengths, interests and thousand-watt smile seem tailor-made for a career in politics, it’s surprising to learn just how close he was to charting a far different path. 

Along with a few influential individuals, he points to his time at Ashland University as transformative in ways he could never have predicted.

But before all that, there was a grandmother, a lawn that needed mowing—and one too many study halls.

Growing up outside tiny Jeromesville, Ohio, Miller’s parents were hard-working and devoted. They were not, however, political or particularly responsive to his desire to be the first person in the family to go to college. But there was another person who was–and she lived just a short bike ride away.

“My grandmother played a pivotal role in shaping my early views on patriotism and service,” he says. “She was heavily involved in serving her community and would even take me along whenever she voted. She sparked my interest in serving our country. It wasn’t initially about politics for me; it was about a deep-seated love for everything red, white and blue. But as I grew, I realized that to truly serve America and contribute to its betterment, engaging in government and politics was essential.”

In addition to his grandmother’s influence, a lawn mowing job at 16 for National Latex owner and university trustee Harry Gill and his wife Patty would put him within the orbit of world leaders you wouldn’t expect to encounter in tiny Ashland, Ohio.

When Margaret Thatcher visited Ashland University, the Gills orchestrated an opportunity for him to be involved. 

“They knew I was interested in going,” Miller says. “But of course, I couldn’t afford the $250 to get in. So, Mrs. Gill came up with a plan.” 

Serving on the catering crew allowed him to witness the event up close —with a little help from his fellow caterers.

“They knew I was fascinated by politics, so they let me stand at the back while Mrs. Thatcher spoke,” he says. “At one point, one of the girls working at the front tables found me and said that Governor (George) Voinovich had dropped his fork and asked if I wanted to hand him a clean one. I will tell you,” he laughs, “that was pretty amazing.” 

His interest in politics continued through his high school years—and got a little help from a scheduling issue.

“I had too many study halls my senior year,” Miller says. “So they set up an internship with the local County Commissioners. Monday and Wednesday mornings, I would go to their meetings and write a report.”

Seeing how local politics worked firsthand lit a fire inside him, moving him one step closer to a career in public service.

Miller’s close encounter with a different life trajectory came when, at 18, he threw his hat into the ring for County Commissioner.

 “I lost by 350 votes,” he says, “but it was a blessing in disguise.” 

His loss sealed his decision to attend Ashland University full-time. This choice gave him opportunities, which he now sees as the building blocks of his growth.

“One of the reasons I chose Ashland was because there were numerous opportunities for me to afford to go,” he says. Along with securing the Presidential and Ashbrook scholarships, he was able to work various paid internships and summer jobs to cover the rest. 

Miller’s time at Ashland gave him access to new experiences that shaped his political ambitions. He held several high-level leadership positions in the student senate. He points to several individuals who played a pivotal role in shaping his journey at Ashland University. Dr. Lucille Ford was a constant source of encouragement. Religion professor Dr. Don Rinehart was a spiritual mentor and Tom Roepke, then-Deputy Director of the Ashbrook Center, engaged him in ways that still resonate. 

Miller’s time at Ashland University was transformative. It provided him with a comprehensive education that went beyond academics. The opportunities to engage in leadership, community service and intellectual exploration shaped his character, prepared him for future challenges and deepened his understanding of public service and governance.

“The connections I was able to make in this city were amazing–in the classroom, out and about and through the Ashbrook Program,” Miller says.

He is profoundly grateful to the donors whose generosity made his education and experiences possible, allowing him to pursue his dreams and aspirations with conviction and purpose.

“If it weren’t for generous university supporters establishing scholarships,” he says, “my life would be dramatically different.”

Just after graduation, four years after losing the county commissioner race, Miller ran again at age 22. Equipped with the knowledge, experiences and connections made through his college experience, he won handily. Miller would go on to serve in John Kasich’s administration (thanks largely to an Ashland University summer internship at ODOT) and work with a wide range of area nonprofits and community organizations.

Seven years into his life as mayor, Miller sees the connection between the community and the university as more important than ever.

“Ashland University provides families and individuals throughout our community with so many unique cultural opportunities and activities that would not be here without the university’s presence,” he says. “We’re so interwoven that as new life is breathed into our city, it also benefits Ashland University. And as Ashland University rises, there’s a direct benefit to the city of Ashland. We are in this together.”

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