Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Morning Star, October 4, 1989

On the campus of Albion College is a stately old home known as the Fiske House. It was built as the home of Lewis Ransom Riske, who was president of the College from 1877 to 1897. In the minds of Albion residents however, the house is known as being the home of the Miller-Phipps music studio. Darleen Wellington Miller (1885-1978) and Nema Phipps (1888-1970) operated their voice and music studio in this house for over half a century.

Both ladies were highly educated in the music field. Darleen, a native of Springport, was well known as a soprano, and Nema taught music at Albion College. The two women joined together in 1910 to form the Miller-Phipps Studio.

Throughout the years hundreds of piano and voice students entered the doors of 703 E. Cass St. including yours truly. How many persons reading this had "Miss Phipps" as their piano teacher? The two women sponsored numerous recitals, musicals, and even several operas in their long careers.

Two of the more notable students they taught included Clifford Herzer, son of the Albion physician Dr. H.A. Herzer, who later founded his own school of music in the east, and Hilton Dressel, voice pupil of Darleen Wellington Miller, who went on to form the Dressel Opera Company. At one time Mrs. Miler formed a men’s glee club from 25 of her male students and sent them on tour. One of her first accompanists was Dudley Vernor, author of "The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi."

Miss Phipps was known as a strict disciplinarian in regards to piano teaching. She was old fashioned, too. This writer remembers hearing rumors about Miss Phipps hitting your hand with a ruler if you made a mistake...and he remembers that ruler sitting right there by the piano at all times.

The two ladies were close friends with the family of Floyd Starr, and their home eventually was deeded over to Starr Commonwealth, with the understanding that the ladies could live there the rest of their lives, and that the house could then go back to Albion College, which had sold it to Darleen Wellington’s father around 1910. Unfortunately for the College, the ladies lived over into their 80s and 90s, and it wasn’t until after Mrs. Miller died in 1978 did the College get the house back.

It has since been remodeled into a dormitory, but in keeping with historical design and theme of the house itself. The College held an "open house" at the time, and many people were pleased (and some amazed) how the college kept the integrity of the house intact, with its beautiful woodwork and intricate designs.

This week we present photographs of Darleen Wellington Miller and Nema Phipps themselves, from a 1913 recital program, and an 1894 photograph of the house at 703 E. Cass St, which is still standing today. When you drive past it, remember Miss Phipps and Mrs. Miller.

Darleen Wellington Miller

Nema Phipps

The house at 703 E. Cass St.


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