Soon after the Miller family lost husband and father Doug, a firefighter at Rescue 5 Staten Island, in the September 11 terrorist attacks, Appalachian State University "adopted" Laurie and daughters Elizabeth, Rachel, and Katie. Starting with the gift of a live Christmas tree and wreath in December 2001, the campus community has sent birthday cards, letters, Appalachian-logoed merchandise, savings bonds, and other items.
The relationship also touched the classroom. Each semester, Assistant Professor Lynne Bercaw assigns students in her World Literature for Children class to compose a children's book. This spring, the class interviewed the Miller girls through e-mail and wrote books based on the girls' favorite things to do. The students presented the books, among them Counting with Katie and Where's My Desk?, to the children during the Millers' campus visit in July.
The Millers stayed in the Boone area for a week in July, visiting tourist sites and spending time with Appalachian students, faculty, and staff.
"You really have brightened our lives and we thank you very much," Laurie tearfully said at a reception honoring the family. "Every day is a challenge. You've demonstrated that we are in people's thoughts and prayers, and that's helping us incredibly."
She presented the university with two prints of her husband-a photograph taken at his firefighters' academy graduation and a painting created by an artist in their hometown. They will be hung in the Plemmons Student Union.