Times Bulletin Correspondent
VAN WERT — When former Van Wert elementary principal Harvey McMillen first became acquainted with the classroom, it was in a one-room school in the mountains of Pennsylvania.
McMillen, who served as principal at both Horace Mann and Franklin Elementary Schools in Van Wert, had lived with his grandparents outside of Indiana, Pennsylvania and was one of 20 students under the instruction of a single teacher for all grades.
“We had to go out back to use the toilet and carry buckets of water into the school. We would draw the water from a dipper when we wanted a drink,” recalled McMillen.
“I was there between the ages of three and seven because of the illness of my mother,” continued McMillen. “Dad worked at a factory in Sidney and my mother was hospitalized. It was hard times and he had lost his farm so he had a job at Sidney Grain.”
When he returned to his parents, he attended school in Quincy, located outside of Sidney. These days, his alma mater is a consolidation with DeGraff and is known as Riverside School.
Following graduation, he received a degree in education at Bowling Green State University. His first year of teaching was in the Delta school system for a year before being drafted into the Korean Conflict.
In Korea, he was part of a tank company attached to the South Korean Army on the 38th Parallel. Following the cease fire, he stayed on for a year to teach English to Koreans in the area where he had served in the war. One of McMillen’s most-prized documents is an official letter he received in 2000 from Kim Dae-jung, President of the Republic of Korea. In the letter, the President thanked him for the service he had rendered to the Korean people some 50 years earlier.
When McMillen returned, the then superintendent of Ohio City-Liberty Schools, who had been McMillen’s principal at Quincy, approached him about teaching in Ohio City. He taught there from 1954 to 1961 and also helped coach basketball and baseball.
“The superintendent at Van Wert contacted me and wanted me to come teach in the Van Wert school system,” said McMillen. McMillen moved to Horace Mann Elementary School in 1961 where he taught school for half days and served as principal for half days. Eventually, he moved to Franklin Elementary School where he became full-time principal. During his career, McMillen taught fourth and sixth grade classes and seventh grade at Ohio City.
In Ohio City, he had also served on the town council and the Board of Public Affairs. He continues to be active in the Masonic Lodge and American Legion in Ohio City. “My folks thought I should get a job and start earning money after I graduated from high school,” recalled McMillen. “A good friend at Bowling Green encouraged me to come up there. I talked to the superintendent at Quincy and asked him if he thought I could do college work and he said that he thought I could. I’m so glad I went there.”
McMillen met his first wife, Ruth, during his sophomore year in college. They married after he graduated from college and had two children: Debra, who spent 35 years in education, and Gary, who is employed with United Airlines.
“We graduated from college, married, and I began my first job all the same weekend,” said McMillen. After Ruth passed away due to cancer, he married his current wife of 13 years, Dorie, whose husband had passed away. Over the years, they have enjoyed traveling and volunteering for the Council on Aging.
“There are a lot of former students out there,” said McMillen. “I always loved meeting the students and their families. I enjoy seeing what they are doing now.”