Michigan’s late Governor William G. Milliken was celebrated at a public memorial on August 6, 2020, at Interlochen Center for the Arts. To honor the Milliken legacy, FLOW has launched the “Helen & William G. Milliken Fund For Love of Water.” FLOW also published a series of video interviews in the run-up to August 6 that feature those who best knew the Governor and his late wife Helen.
Gov. Milliken, Michigan’s longest-serving governor, was known for his environmental stewardship and civility in politics. During his tenure in office from 1969 until 1983, Gov. Milliken provided critical support for Michigan’s 10-cent beverage container deposit law, expanded state funding for recreation and parks programs in Detroit, and signed the state’s landmark Michigan Environmental Protection Act, as well as laws to protect sand dunes, control hazardous waste, and promote recycling. Gov. Milliken passed away in October 2019 in his native and beloved Traverse City. He was preceded in his passing by Helen, herself a champion of environmental stewardship and the women’s rights movement.
Check out those testimonial videos below:
“The bottle bill was one of the most significant environmental initiatives (of my father’s tenure), and we led the the nation with it,” said their son Bill Milliken, Jr. “They went out at one point and collected a mile of highway litter and brought it into the cabinet room in Lansing to show the media that there was an issue with waste along our highways.” Milliken, Jr., also remembered his mother Helen’s activism. “When the Republican convention was held in Detroit in 1980, my father was on the floor speaking at the convention and my mother was in the street outside Cobo Hall protesting that the platform hadn’t accomodated women’s issues in the way she felt it needed to.”
“I first knew Bill and Helen when Bill was running for office back in the ’70s,” said Ann Rogers, co-chair of NMEAC (Northwest Michigan Environmental Action Council). “I thought he was a prince of a person who really cared about the environment, women’s issues, and the bottle deposit bill. There were so many things that he sponsored.”
“To me, Governor Milliken was the epitome of what a public servant is,” said longtime policy advisor Bill Rustem. “Not a politician, but a public servant. Someone who thought generations down the road and said ‘if we do this policy today, it will mean this much for our children, and to their children, and to their children.’ That was the way he thought. His legacy lives on.”
Governor William G. and Helen Milliken “came into office at a time when strict environmental regulation was really needed, and they had many opportunities to shape the landscape, especially in Michigan,” says Zoe Gum, a Traverse City native and FLOW’s Milliken policy intern for summer 2020. “Their work to develop the bottle return policy in Michigan was really incredible. That shaped everyone’s lives. I wouldn’t be returning bottles every other week if it wasn’t for them.”
“Most people think that moderate politics is without any true conviction or feeling—it’s sort of in the mushy middle,” said Dave Dempsey, FLOW’s senior policy advisor and author of the biography, William G. Milliken, Michigan’s Passionate Moderate. “But for him, being a moderate was an intense and fierce belief that by being a moderate in the middle he could craft policies that could benefit everybody.”
“Bill and Helen both had an impressive capacity to connect with people of all ages and even with young people,” said Dr. Terrie Taylor, a world renowned malaria researcher, Traverse City native and longtime Milliken family friend. “I think that’s partly because they were so broad-minded and also non-judgmental in their approach. But also both of them had very lively senses of humor, and they could pick up on funny little quirks in situations that, I think, especially young people found endearing and perhaps more approachable.”
“From what I gathered, Milliken was able to put aside party lines in favor of protecting these resources that we all share, no matter what party you represent,” Emma Grace Moulton, FLOW’s Milliken intern for Communications. “I think that’s super important, especially to this generation who may not see that as often in politics. The Millikens care about people. William and Helen were at the forefront of LGBTQ protections and women’s rights; they were feminists before it was cool and trendy to protect those people’s rights. I think that’s super important to hear about in this generation where everything is so divided—that there are people who are doing this work to protect our shared resources.”
“One of my favorite stories of Bill Milliken was, when he was Governor, he would come home on weekends—and who wouldn’t when you live on the base of Old Mission Peninsula looking out over West Bay,” said Glen Chown, executive director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “I think he got a lot of positive energy and was recharged when he would come visit Old Mission Peninsula and hike in places like Old Mission State Park.”
“You Google the Milliken family, and you’ll find they have been pillars for the Traverse City community,” said Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers. “His grandfather owned what once was this great department store. His grandfather was mayor of Traverse City, like myself. They started out supporting Traverse City, the natural resources, and the people that live here. Something that’s special in my mind, being a gay man, is that in 2015 Bill Milliken signed an amicus brief to support same-sex marriage. That really helped us as a town, as a state move forward with the general acceptance of all people.”
“Bill Millken was a war hero in my estimation,” said Empire resident Marc Oberschulte, a special assistant to the Governor from 1975-79. “He flew 45 missions as a gunner in Europe in a B-24. Many close calls. He almost died a couple times. Bad accidents with the airplanes. He wouldn’t have wanted to do war again, but he wouldn’t have missed it either. It made him believe that he wouldn’t be afraid of anything. He tried to do as much good in his life as he could.” … “During a bombing run in Europe, there were a bunch of German Messerschmidt planes attacking their airplane. He looked out and saw other planes coming their way, and it happened to be the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black unit flying P-51s. Those airplanes diverted the Germans and saved Milliken’s airplane. Detroit Mayor Coleman Young was part of the Tuskegee air group (though he didn’t fly), and that created an immediate relationship between Milliken and Young, which would help Detroit and the Governor in many ways.”
Highlight reel: Testimonials about Governor Milliken and his legacy
As we honor the late Governor William G. Milliken with a public memorial at Interlochen Center for the Arts, FLOW compiled these video testimonials by those who knew Bill and Helen well. Listen to recollections by their son, Bill Milliken, Jr., NMEAC co-chair Ann Rogers, policy advisor Bill Rustem, biographer Dave Dempsey, FLOW Milliken policy interns Zoe Gum and Emma Moulton, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservacy executive director Glen Chown, Traverse City mayor Jim Carruthers, special assistant Marc Oberschulte, and family friend, Dr. Terrie Taylor. Enjoy!