Dustin Miller grew up in Lacona, a farming community of 350 people about an hour’s drive southeast of Des Moines in Warren County. His school bus driver was Marvin Miller, no relation. And about the third Miller family in town? No relation. Today, Miller is the director of government affairs for the Iowa League of Cities. In the years between leaving Lacona and working in Des Moines, Miller has lived in Nigeria and other foreign countries, and he has worked at a Crow Creek Sioux Reservation in South Dakota as president of Barry and Michele Griswell’s Harvest Initiative. He once told the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in London that if he wanted to reach Miller to just send a letter to Dustin Miller, Lacona, Iowa. The letter later arrived at his parents’ home. Miller says he is just a small-town boy who always considered himself an “urban” kid.

Explain this “urban” kid thing.
As I kid, I always liked big, big cities. My parents always made sure we took vacations to places that weren’t always comfortable, cities like Phoenix and Chicago and Dallas. I always envisioned myself an urban kid, even being from the most rural place. My Uncle Melvin farms south of town, my cousins farm east of town -  I was always the city kid. … Then I worked with Barry Griswell in South Dakota while I was in law school on his Harvest Initiative for the Crow Creek Sioux tribe. From his book “The Adversity Paradox,” he might say I should never have graduated college, coming from where I came from. But I figured it out and bumbled along. I’m from that little town, and I have lived in London and Athens.

How did you get started on your travels?
After graduating from the University of Iowa in 2001, I worked at a youth summer camp in Texas, where I met a dad who was the head of a church committee in England. He brought me there as a youth pastor. In 2003, I came back to do student teaching (at Valley High School), then went back to England with no job lined up. They told me the church was in financial trouble, so I coached a high school basketball team and helped with a professional team and made more than I would have as a youth pastor. I worked at a private school where half of the teams were made up of Nigerian and Japanese and other boarders, so three-fourths of the team lived at the school. I did that for a little while, then moved to Greece after the basketball season ended. That didn’t work out so well. It was at the start of the first war in Iraq … it was a tough time to be there (because of protests against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq). 

So you came home?
I moved back to England for two more years and worked in Parliament (and as a youth pastor). Some of the dads, these were corporate executives with Enron and BP and Coca-Cola and the like, introduced me to Alistair Burt, who is a member of Parliament from North East Bedfordshire.He was the parliamentary private secretary or chief of staff to the guy who was opposed to (former Prime Minister) Tony Blair. David Cameron (the current prime minister) was in the office next to us.  I got to campaign in 2005. I was as happy and as poor as I ever was. … I got to see the queen open Parliament. 

What was next?
I came back and went to Drake law school. I wanted to do international development with the agricultural law department. The first summer, I went to Kenya, then I did international food policy research in Washington, D.C. I got robbed in Kenya. I spent the summer near Lake Victoria doing microcredit. My job was to make the transition from a microcredit institution to an actual bank. Essentially they were offering lines of credit to people in the same line of business, so all of the fishmongers would come in to get a loan together.

And this is all going to lead to Barry and Michele Griswell’s project in South Dakota?
I was trying to find a job in 2008 during law school. A law school classmate (Jason Yates, who is now in private practice) went to church with Barry. He wanted to do a project in the poorest county in the country. Barry said I’ll support you guys. We worked at Crow Creek for two years. I’m still involved with the tribal stuff.

And now you’re working for Iowa’s cities.
I can play the policy game. Everybody asks why I came home, and I say this is the greatest place I’ve ever known. We’re quite happy to be back in Iowa. If you’ve never lived in a community like Lacona, then you don’t know what you’re missing. To come back and have those folks around you, you can’t beat it.