In Memoriam: Helen Milliken

December 14, 2012 | |

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.”


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