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In Memoriam: Helen Milliken

MLUI remembers a board member and dear friend

MLUI News | December 14, 2012 | By MLUI

'Kind and honest with a deep sense of integrity'

From Hans Voss, MLUI executive director

"At her core Helen was kind and honest with a deep sense of integrity. She had clear convictions for people and the earth, and the courage and eloquence to speak out effectively for them.  ... I am forever thankful to have had the chance to know Helen Milliken over the last 15 years and am dedicated to carrying on her legacy." 

'Intelligence, courage and grace'

From MLUI Founder Keith Schneider

"By virtue of her intelligence, courage, and grace Helen Milliken did what so many of us aspire to: She made the people around her and the place she lived better. ... Helen's beauty and love was encompassing, her energy powerful. What I admired most about Helen was how she led her life from the front, steadily charging into the big ideas of her time."

An inspiration

From MLUI Board Chairman Craig Sharp

"At my very first MLUI Board of Directors meeting five years ago I sat next to Helen Milliken and felt surprisingly nervous.  After she warmly touched my hand and introduced herself, she immediately got down to the business of showing us all how to be engaged and effective board members.  I have no doubt that her kindness and dedication will continue to inspire the MLUI Board for years to come."

Remembering Helen

 

Obituary: Helen W. Milliken (Traverse City Record-Eagle)

 

Helen Milliken, former Michigan first lady, dies at 89 (Detroit Free Press)

 

Helen Milliken: 'An inspiration' (Traverse City Record-Eagle)

 

'Grace and guts’: Helen Milliken wore many hats (Traverse City Record-Eagle)

 

Former governor, friends remember Helen (Traverse City Record-Eagle)

 

Helen Milliken remembered as champion of women's rights, arts and the environment (MLive)
 

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Helen Milliken joined the Michigan Land Use Institute board in 1998, but her work inspired the core values of the Institute when it was founded in 1995. Helen and Gov. William Milliken were among the first to highlight the connection between a clean environment and a strong economy—a philosophy that continues to guide our efforts today. 

Helen was a steadfast supporter of MLUI, from our early work in oil and gas education and advocacy to our more recent Farm To School efforts to bring local food to northern Michigan schools. She also memorably took a stand ten years ago, leading a successful charge to prevent a $30 million road and bridge across the Boardman River south of Traverse City. 

"Do you recall Joyce Kilmore's poem? 'I think that I shall never see a billboard as lovely as a tree,'" she said at a press conference along the banks of the Boardman. "I believe this misguided proposal will not only fail in its objective but in the process destroy or mitigate the values that draw us here in the first place." 

We continue to honor the MIllikens' work with annual awards in their name. Since 2008, we've honored MLUI founder Keith Schneider; Black Star Farms President Don Coe; environmental attorney Jim Olson; Jim MacInnes, co-owner and CEO of Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa; and Marsha Smith, Rotary Charities executive director and Grand Vision leader.   

MLUI has always and will continue to model our work on Helen and Gov. William Milliken's legacy of working collaboratively toward real solutions for Michigan. She will be missed, but her incredible life will continue to inspire.

MLUI Friends Remember Helen

Hans Voss, MLUI Executive Director:

"At her core Helen was kind and honest with a deep sense of integrity. She had clear convictions for people and the earth, and the courage and eloquence to speak out effectively for them.  Helen had a profound effect on my life and a substantial influence in shaping the central values of the Michigan Land Use Institute. I am forever thankful to have had the chance to know Helen Milliken over the last 15 years and am dedicated to carrying on her legacy." 

Keith Schneider, MLUI founder and senior editor of Circle of Blue:

"By virtue of her intelligence, courage, and grace Helen Milliken did what so many of us aspire to: She made the people around her and the place she lived better. I grieve for Bill Milliken and her family. Helen's beauty and love was encompassing, her energy powerful. What I admired most about Helen was how she led her life from the front, steadily charging into the big ideas of her time -- taming the energy industry's rapaciousness to safeguard Michigan's Pigeon River Country wilderness from rampant drilling, putting Michigan's scenic beauty above marketing in challenging the state's billboard industry, championing women's rights, and advocating fair play and justice. She did all of this and more -- especially in helping to guide her husband through the finest governship in state history -- without raising her voice. Without pointing a finger. Helen's distinctive capacity to lead was fashioned from the best stuff: her steady voice, her compassion, her exquisite manner. We lost a stateswoman today. I am terribly saddened."

Craig Sharp, MLUI board chairman:

"At my very first MLUI Board of Directors meeting five years ago I sat next to Helen Milliken and felt surprisingly nervous.  After she warmly touched my hand and introduced herself, she immediately got down to the business of showing us all how to be engaged and effective board members.  I have no doubt that her kindness and dedication will continue to inspire the MLUI Board for years to come."

Marsha Smith, Rotary Charities Executive Director

"Helen Milliken was one of the strongest, kindest, smartest, most articulate women I have ever known. She was a compassionate advocate and cared deeply about both issues and people. She was one of my heroes. Helen's life made a difference to her family, friends, community, state and world. I will always think of her as the First Lady of Michigan."

Chris and Jim MacInnes, Crystal Mountain Resort

"With the news of Helen Milliken's passing, we, along with so many other Michigan residents, shed a tear. For so many of us, she was our role model who advocated relentlessly, enthusiastically and courageously for social justice, including the Equal Rights Amendment, the arts and environment.

"We had the privilege of knowing Helen through her support of Michigan Legacy Art Park at Crystal Mountain and work at Michigan Land Use Institute. In 2011 Helen and Governor Milliken received the Michigan Legacy Art Park "Legacy Award," recognizing their positive impact on Michigan's arts. Helen also served on the board of directors of the Michigan Land Use Institute and helped create its Milliken Distinguished Leadership Award, given to those who dedicate their lives to protecting Michigan's environment. Helen and Governor Milliken have long understood that a clean, healthy environment is necessary for a prosperous economy, a philosophy we very much support.  Forever our "First Lady," Helen will be missed, but we are all better off thanks to a life well lived."

14 Comments

710 days ago, 12:29pm | by Mary Van Valin | Report Comment

I first met Helen at early morning workouts at Central High School in the 1980's, and ever since then, she has been a true inspiration. She so valued, understood, and promoted real community that nurtured mindful connections with our natural world. That welcoming smile of hers will always live on in my mind and heart. How fortunate our region and state have been to be blessed by Helen's presence.

710 days ago, 12:29pm | by Betsy Alles | Report Comment

Most of all I will miss her full-out laugh. It came from a very deep, knowing place. Helen challenged me to sit by the fire…and stoke it when needed, without fear. We talked so honestly, heads and hearts close together, about things that matter.

710 days ago, 12:33pm | by Johanna Miller | Report Comment

What a true loss for the Milliken family, for Michigan and for so many important causes. But what timeless gifts Helen Milliken gave the Great Lakes state with her humility, integrity, leadership and pure passion for protecting what makes Michigan great -- and what makes it thrive. I feel lucky to have gotten to know her at my time at the Michigan Land Use Institute.

710 days ago, 12:33pm | by Jim Lively | Report Comment

When I first met Helen Milliken at an MLUI board meeting more than a decade ago, I was in awe and somewhat intimidated to talk to this woman who was a hero to my mother. However, it didn’t take long for Helen’s gentle and warm spirit to show that she was a staunch supporter and friend to all of us here at MLUI. She was eloquent, bold and extremely classy – a true model of leadership. It is both humbling and inspiring to have Helen Milliken lend her name and legacy to our work here at MLUI.

710 days ago, 12:34pm | by Timothy Fitzgerald Young | Report Comment

I’m saddened for Michigan at the passing of Helen Miliken today. With seemingly unlimited grace, Helen brought so much patience, integrity and wisdom to all she touched. I can say that she changed the way I approach challenges in my life. For people like Helen, and they are few, Michigan does not loose them at their passing. Her life’s work leaves a better Michigan and inspired people. Her impact will outlive our memories. Happy travels Helen.

710 days ago, 1:31pm | by Gary Rentrop | Report Comment

While working on the Pigion Rive Shell Oil r defense appeal in the 70's, without fee, Helen would send to me a check off and on for $25. That check, coming from Helen Miliken, had a lot to do with keeping me motivated. She will be missed.

710 days ago, 1:51pm | by Denny Rohn | Report Comment

Helen Milliken made every thing she participated in better, stronger and more successful. I appreciate not only her contributions in so many ways but the example she set for us to follow. My thoughts to Bill and the MIlliken family . Thank you to Helen for leaving this world a better place.

710 days ago, 1:59pm | by Jeanine Easterday | Report Comment

What a gift as a young woman to be inspired by the works of Helen Milliken as a fledgling member of the League of Women Voters and an ardent feminist. How inspired I was by her encouragement to join the cause for the ERA, the right to choice, and countless other calls to citizen action. Her presence and encouragement has no doubt mulitplied many times over by those who learned from her that one must be involved and you can make a difference.

710 days ago, 2:33pm | by Kelly Ignace | Report Comment

A true female hero. I met Helen for the first time at a fundraising event for Planned Parenthood. I was immediately taken by her grace, warmth and focused intellect. I was saddened to hear of her passing. She was an inspiration.

710 days ago, 2:53pm | by Susan Ruotsala Storm, Ph.D., Past-President Crooked Tree Arts Council | Report Comment

As President, CTAC 1980-81, I rudely communicated to The Office of the Governor my outrage that Mrs. Wm. (Helen) Milliken would not be attending The Crooked Tree Arts Center Building Opening in Petoskey, MI as planned as the Governor ill and she'd be performing his duties. She not only made a charming call to me at my home, but graciously attended all our festivities until after midnight in a beautiful ball gown after having opened a copper mine in the Upper Peninsula early that morning!

710 days ago, 5:23pm | by Jim Olson | Report Comment

The Millikens lived on West Bay over the ridge from where I grew up on East Bay. I think I first met Helen when she taught skiing to us straddled-tip kids at Holiday Hills. After that there she was supporting our work on envirionmental, wilderness, water issues, sometimes quietly, but other times in the lead. In each instance her wisdom, grace and courage inspired us, and helped me personally get over self doubt when I heard the clear, principled truth of her few words.

710 days ago, 5:53pm | by Leslie Lee | Report Comment

Helen Milliken has been my role model for being the best kind of human---full of life, generous, impassioned, courageous and intelligent. I'll miss her, and the world would be a poorer place by her absence, but that she left behind so much good to remember her by.

710 days ago, 5:56pm | by Julie Weeks | Report Comment

Helen Milliken was, to me as a kid watching the machinations of politics from behind the scenes and later as an adult working in the public policy arena, a true role model of grace and tenacity, kindness and resoluteness, and of holding true to one's moral and political compass even when buffeted by shifting winds. The world will miss her, as do I.

709 days ago, 9:49am | by Lillie Wolff | Report Comment

Helen possessed such grace, generosity of spirit, AND intellect. She was an inspiring champion of women's rights, the environment, and the arts. Helen was my first gardening mentor. She will be missed, but her legacy and light live on...

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