The financial debt that burdened one college student has helped to propel his son into an education at MTSU.
Ian Tyler Muller is attending the university on an $8,000 scholarship from the Life Lessons Scholarship Program of Life Happens, a nonprofit organization supported by more than 140 insurance and financial companies.
Life Happens has declared September as Life Insurance Awareness Month, making the claim that more than 40 percent of Americans have no life insurance.
Ian, a freshman recording industry major from Greer, South Carolina, lost his 42-year-old father, N. Ian Muller, to pneumonia nearly three years ago after a misdiagnosis.
To compound the tragedy, the elder Muller had racked up some $300,000 in debt but had no life insurance. The family had no savings to pay the creditors.
At age 15, the younger Muller worked 40 hours a week at two jobs, while attending high school, to help his family. He displays no bitterness, however.
“I loved him more than anything else in the world,” Ian says of his father. “He was my best friend.”
For years, N. Ian Muller worked in human resources at a large plastics company. He hated it, the family says.
When his entire division was laid off, he was free to pursue his dream of owning a coffee shop. The shop never brought in much money, the family recalls, partly because of Muller’s generous nature; he often gave away free coffee to people who could not afford it.
The elder Muller earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and a master’s degree from Indiana University. At the time of his death, he was working on a doctorate at Clemson University — and racking up thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
He’d lost his life insurance policy in the layoff. Fortunately, due to the family’s dire need, creditors forgave Muller’s debts.
At first, Ian thought that writing a 500-word essay to obtain a scholarship would exploit his father’s memory. He later came to regard it as a way of paying tribute.
“He fought tirelessly to help me get good grades and put me in a position where I could pay for college,” Ian says.
Ian also obtained two other scholarships and Pell grants to complement his Life Lessons scholarship, but he has something even more valuable than cash — a community that cares about him.
When his grandfather developed late-stage cancer, private citizens raised enough money for the cash-strapped family to go to Arizona to see him.
That same South Carolina community turned out in droves to say goodbye to N. Ian Muller. Some 3,000 attended a ceremony in his honor at a local high school football stadium — a fitting tribute for a man with a lifelong love of the game.
“It was above and beyond what you would think a community would be willing to do for someone in our situation,” Ian said.
The elder Muller’s ashes later were scattered in his native Alaska as Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” was played, all according to his wishes.
Now Ian is pursuing his dreams of working at a job he truly loves instead of the drudgery and debt that weighed down his father’s dreams. With a love of rock music inspired by his father, Ian said he intends to be successful in the record business.
“His most important job was us,” said Ian. “I’m lucky, even though he passed, to have had someone in my life like that.”
For more information about the Life Lessons Scholarship Program, go to www.lifehappens.org.
— Gina K. Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)