Tag: Governor Milliken

The Man Who Biked to Work

Jim Olson is FLOW’s Founder, President, and Legal Advisor

By Jim Olson

In the late 1950s, I would ride my bike from East Bay, on the other side of the ridge that runs along Old Mission Peninsula, to near downtown Traverse City, and I would notice a man on a bike. It seemed odd because in the 1950s no one rode bikes to work, especially not dressed in business attire. It turned out to be William Milliken, who would go on to become Michigan’s longest-serving governor.

I remember I first saw William and Helen Milliken when I signed up for Traverse City Record-Eagle ski school. They, along with several parents—the Hayes, Cornwells, Halls, Orrs, Babels, Merrills, and many more—taught us how to snowplow and stem turn down the hill, with classical music blaring from the loudspeakers.

In high school I saw Mr. Milliken riding his bike, and I knew he’d been elected State Senator. Once again, it struck me as unusual. I really didn’t know the man who would later become Governor Milliken then; I was just one of many young people, no doubt of all ages, who were acquainted with and admired him. Here was a man who rode to the beat of his own drum.

At the beginning of my senior year of college, I took a gamble at not being drafted into the Army, and applied for law school. I didn’t exactly excel at college, but one of the requirements for admission was a letter of recommendation. Because I attended Michigan State University with almost 40,000 students, I didn’t know any professor well enough, nor would they know me, to ask for a letter. Then it occurred to me: I wondered if it would be alright to contact then-Lt. Gov. Milliken, who’d been the running mate of Governor George Romney, describe my circumstances and desire to attend law school, and ask him if he’d write a letter of recommendation.

Not long after sending my inquiry, a reply letter arrived written on the stationery of the Executive Office of Michigan, stating that Lt. Gov. Milliken would write a letter of recommendation. I wrote him back, thanking him. That he would take the time to write a letter of recommendation for me has remained with me throughout my career.

I think it was the summer before graduating from law school, a few of us met at the Cornwells’ house for a morning at their beach on West Bay. A man swam offshore, heading north. It was newly elected Governor William Milliken. I could send him only a silent thought of gratitude, realizing that his letter may have tipped the scales that landed me in law school in the first place.

After law school, my wife and I moved to East Lansing. One evening I walked over to the Student Union, and noticed a poster announcing a presentation by a Professor Joe Sax of the University of Michigan Law School, on Michigan’s new environmental protection law. This intrigued me, so I went to the meeting and learned about the new law drafted by Professor Sax, passed by the legislature, and supported by thousands of citizens, including the support of the Governor and Helen Milliken. On July 27, 1970, just over 50 years ago, Governor Milliken signed the enrolled bill into law.

After finishing my first legal job, clerking at the Michigan Supreme Court, I moved to Traverse City and opened a law practice with Mike Dettmer. We worked with trial attorney Dean Robb, and soon found ourselves in the middle of one of Michigan’s first environmental lawsuits over the fate of the excess land owned by the highway department along the mouth of the Boardman River. Soon after, we were hired on to file a lawsuit against a consortium of steel companies and their Upper Peninsula subsidiary electrical power and railroad companies. 

Between 1973 and 1974, we filed both cases under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), the law Governor Milliken had signed three years earlier. The lawsuit caused an uproar, and quickly mushroomed into proceedings in several courts and the Department of Natural Resources. Before we knew it, George Weeks, Governor Milliken’s press secretary and  trusted advisor, invited us into the Governor’s Executive Office to learn more about the issues of the lawsuit. Then, a group of power brokers and their legislator friends introduced a bill to gut, effectively repeal, the MEPA, to defeat our lawsuit. Despite the political pressure and need for jobs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Governor Milliken—and his allies—gently held firm in his support and would not sign a bill that would lead to harm to our State’s environment.

By 1978, the State of Michigan desperately sought a place on state land for a burial pit to dispose of the bags of hazardous animal feed accidentally laced with the fire retardant PBB and spread through the dairy farm country of Michigan. The State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) picked a remote area of state forest in the northeastern Lower Peninsula. A firestorm of opposition, driven by frustration, fear, and close-to-the-land citizens, rose into the heated political atmosphere. It was an election year. Governor Milliken, whom I supported, was running for his third term. The PBB Action Committee, a group of residents from Mio, led by a wise Amish man and passionate local newspaper publisher, asked me to file a lawsuit to block a series of clay-lined pits for the disposal of the contaminated feed, milk products, and cows, dying and stuffed in exploding 55-gallon drums.

While the courts pressed the case to a trial within 30 days, the election heated up like the summer weather. In late June, the Michigan Supreme Court let the construction and burial in the first pit proceed because of the emergency, but put on hold the rest of the pits. My clients decried the burial in the first pit. The next I knew, I got a call from a news reporter, asking me if I knew my clients had hung the Governor, DNR Director, and State Geologist in effigy. At first, I was appalled and upset that my clients hadn’t told me about their plans, especially in the middle of a court case. Then I turned rueful because of my gratitude for Gov. Milliken, a man who didn’t have to, but still wrote a letter helping me go to law school. Later, I learned that the Governor, his effigy hanging behind him, spoke to the embattled, frustrated citizens who would carry a badge of the PBB crisis in their small, rural community. [Dave Dempsey, William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate (University of Michigan Press, 2006)]

I never told him, and wish I had, that I was sorry for what happened, and so, never brought up the irony that he’d written the letter of recommendation. I can imagine him passing it off gently, and maybe smiling. I seriously doubt the incident crossed his mind again the day after it happened. In the end, I calmed down, realizing my clients weren’t the violent type and had a right to be heard. PBB crisis or not, Gov. Milliken won reelection in 1978 with nearly 57 percent of the vote.

The same year as the PBB case, citizens led by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) filed an appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court to block oil and gas development in the Pigeon River Country State Forest, full of flowing streams, trout, and wildlife, the largest natural area in the Lower Peninsula. I had recently finished a research project on the history of Michigan’s public lands and policies, so, filed an amicus brief (friend of the court) for the Environmental Law Society at U of M Law School and Michigan’s Public Interest Research Group, supporting WMEAC and arguing that the strict protections of the public trust doctrine in MEPA should be applied to the special and unique characteristics of the State’s Pigeon River Country. Once again, I witnessed a close-up case in our highest court, in no small part the result of Governor and Hellen Milliken’s strong stance to stop oil and gas development because of the natural values they held dear for all Michiganders.

In 1975, the DNR proposed an oil and gas development plan that limited oil and gas development to certain areas in the same state forest. Gov. Milliken ordered the DNR to prepare an impact statement in an attempt to derail the drilling and better determine the impacts. By 1976, the Governor and Helen Milliken strongly opposed the development plan, but the Natural Commission adopted the order, and WMEAC filed a citizen suit under the MEPA to save the forest and its elk herd, the largest east of the Mississippi.[Dave Dempsey, Ruin & Recovery, pp. 201-207 (University of Michigan Press, 2001)] Throughout the controversy, the Governor and Helen Milliken stood by their values despite political pressure, camping in the Pigeon River Country State Forest and speaking out in favor of WMEAC and protection of the forest.

In 1979, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of WMEAC and the forest, finding a violation of the MEPA and prohibiting drilling. Shortly after, the oil and gas industry and its allies introduced a bill in the legislature to reverse the court victory. The Governor and Helen, thousands of citizens, and legislative allies held fast, and ultimately, a stronger bill was enacted that prohibited development in the northern two-thirds of the forest, and allowed drilling in the southern-third; it also resulted in what is now the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF), signed into law by Governor Milliken in 1976. The Fund receives royalties from state land oil and gas leases for the sole purpose of purchasing and developing recreational and environmentally significant land. The MNRTF has approved grants to date totaling more than $1 billion to acquire and protect tens of thousands of acres of unique lands throughout Michigan.

In the 1980s, after Gov. Milliken left office, he was one of the first to warn of the threat of water diversions out of the Great Lakes. He pointed to a Texas company that had announced plans to divert water from the Great Lakes to the coal fields of Wyoming, and return the water carrying a coal slurry, presumably, dried and sent to steam-electric generation power plants. Not long after, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed increasing the Chicago Diversion of water out of Lake Michigan to raise levels of the Mississippi River during drought. In response, Gov. Milliken formed the Center for Great Lakes, and soon governors from all Great Lakes states gathered and signed the Great Lakes Charter of 1985; [Dave Dempsey, William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate (University of Michigan Press, 2006)] Congress passed a law that prohibited water diversions out of the Great Lakes basin unless consented to by all eight Governors of states in the Basin. During this time, several groups and some of us citizens organized a conference on the future of the Great Lakes and its ecosystem. Helen and Bill Milliken agreed to support the effort, and keynote the meeting.

The list of their efforts goes on. In the 1990s and 2000s, the Governor and Helen lent their time, names, and otherwise supported environmental and land uses issues and organizations like the Michigan Land Use Institute, now Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, and Michigan Environmental Council. [Dave Dempsey, Ruin & Recovery, pp. 201-207 (University of Michigan Press, 2001)] The two of them abhorred giant highway billboards and urban sprawl, “a plague on the landscape,” Gov. Milliken once said.

During the negotiations in 2005 over an exemption for bottled water from the diversion ban of the Great Lakes Compact, Gov. Milliken  wrote an op-ed, warning governments and citizens not to turn water into a commodity, but to protect it as part of the public trust in the Great Lakes on which all of us depend. [Each state holds title to navigable waters in trust for its citizens, and has a solemn duty to protect the waters for public purposes like navigation, fishing, swimming, and boating. Glass v Goeckel, 473 Mich 667 (2005); Illinois Central R Rd v Illinois, 387 U.S. 146 (1892).]

When the state and county highway departments wanted to build a bypass around Traverse City with a new four-lane highway over the Boardman River, on a cold, puffs-of-breath morning, Helen Milliken stood on the river bank with conservation and civic leaders and spoke of the wisdom of keeping the area’s natural systems and beauty as a key value to our quality of life. The bypass was later rejected by the then Department of Environmental Quality, and then canceled in 2001 by the State’s transportation department. 

In 2004, the Millikens topped the list of several leaders and organizations who filed an amicus brief before the Michigan Supreme Court to oppose the removal of standing—the right of citizens to file lawsuits under MEPA to protect their air, water, and natural resources. And, it wasn’t just environmental issues the Governor and Helen aligned themselves with and supported; they reached out to the African-American community in Detroit and around the State, and supported Helen’s clarion call for the equal rights of women and other minorities. [Dave Dempsey, William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate (University of Michigan Press, 2006)] And during all of this time, the Millikens maintained a quiet life whenever they could at their home on Grand Traverse Bay, close to the natural world they treasured.

There are other times, video clips in my memory, of the humble, soft-spoken Governor of Michigan, showing up to support an event, a project, and organization, always full of gratitude, always shifting attention from himself to those around him, his heart reflecting outward. At FLOW, the Great Lakes law and policy center that I founded and still advise today, all of us were breathless after Gov. Milliken’s passing in October 2019 when Bill Milliken, Jr., showing his outward love of nature and our work, contacted my colleague, and the Milliken family’s biographer and friend, Dave Dempsey, to let us know that FLOW was to be the recipient of a gift from his father’s estate.

One of the last memories I have of Gov. Milliken happened a few years ago. He dropped off an envelope of information that he and Helen wanted to leave for someone at my law firm on East Front Street in downtown Traverse City. I was walking from the side entrance over the walkway under an archway of leaves, and passed Gov. Milliken on his way to the side door. He smiled, we exchanged greetings, and he stopped, silently looked at the canopy of leaves and flowers along the walkway.

He said, “This is such a lovely space.”

Governor Milliken’s Evergreen Legacy

By Dave Dempsey

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

When historians consider the late Governor William Milliken’s place among Michigan’s chief executives, they will note his leadership on behalf of the environment at a critical time, but they will acknowledge even more. In today’s climate of coarse, zero-sum politics, they will recognize his civility and refusal to demonize those who disagreed with him.

As the biographer of Milliken, I can attest that this approach was no pose or strategic calculation—it was inherent in his temperament and thus the trademark of his career. During scores of hours of interviews, he displayed no rancor or resentment. He reflected on his mistakes honestly and at times with self-deprecating humor. Along with his wife Helen, the First Lady who was a leader in her own right, he took harsh criticism and political gamesmanship in stride.  Like any successful politician, he had an ego, but his stayed within reasonable bounds. 

This approach contributed to his environmental accomplishments. Milliken did not need to be the source of an environmental reform to support it. Milestones like the Michigan Environmental Protection Act and the state’s successful bottle and can deposit law were initiated by others, but won his crucial endorsement. When he did originate a proposal, it was typically within the conservation tradition of Republican Theodore Roosevelt, an effort to defend and protect the state’s natural heritage for future generations.

One glimpse of the Millikens in his biography is particularly telling. Prompted by Helen, Milliken took an interest in the oil drilling controversy in the Pigeon River Country State Forest in northern Lower Michigan. They decided to visit the forest in a winter tour to be filmed for the Michigan Outdoors television show. Originally intended to be a ski tour, the trip became a hike when rain melted the snowpack. As the hikers moved down the trail, they stopped occasionally while the approximately 60-year-old Gene Little, carrying a huge TV camera, filmed them walking and talking for the outdoors program. Accompanying them, conservationist Dave Smethurst later told me:

“Pretty soon, Mrs. Milliken asks to borrow my backpack and is picking litter up off the trail. Those skiers left their cookie wrappers and the melted snow revealed their waste. We walk on, and on. Pretty soon Gene is huffing and puffing. We stop more often for him. I walk ahead with Ned and Mrs. Milliken and look behind. Gene is still slogging along, but the Governor is now carrying his TV camera…I made up my mind about the Millikens that day. Good people make good leaders.”

Milliken prided himself on moderation. Often, moderation is viewed as a weakness, a lack of strong political conviction. But with Milliken it was a fiercely held belief that a willingness to work with liberal and conservatives was the most fruitful way of fashioning public policy. Hence the subtitle of his biography: “Michigan’s Passionate Moderate.”

In his final State of the State message, Gov. Milliken cited Judge and judicial philosopher Learned Hand to define his own philosophy: “What is the spirit of moderation? It is the temper which does not press a partisan advantage to its bitter end, which can understand and will respect the other side, which feels a unity between all citizens—real and not the factitious product of propaganda—which recognizes their common fate and their common aspirations—in a word, which has faith in the sacredness of the individual.”

The historic progress Michigan made on environmental protection was one result of this approach. So was his reputation for civility–a self-renewing evergreen legacy, from which today’s politicians could benefit.


Here’s How to Participate in the August 6, 2:00 pm EDT, Memorial Service for Governor William G. Milliken at Interlochen Center for the Arts

The memorial service and celebration of Governor Milliken’s life will take place at 2:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday, August 6, at the 4,000-seat, open-air Kresge Auditorium at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, where he served on the Board of Trustees from 1983-1997. The gathering is free and open to the public. Speakers at the August 6 event include Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer; Bill Rustem, a senior policy advisor in both the Milliken and Snyder administrations; Capt. Arlan Brower, retired from the Michigan State Police; Chuck Stokes of WXYZ-TV; and journalist and longtime friend Jack Lessenberry. Those attending are encouraged to arrive early and be seated to help accommodate Governor Whitmer’s schedule.

Attendees are asked to register for the memorial service so that capacity can be monitored in an effort to plan for social distancing and other health and safety considerations. Please visit Eventbrite to register. Capacity will be limited and registration does not confirm a reservation. Attendees are asked to plan to honor public health safety measures including face coverings and adhering to physical distancing. 

The memorial will be broadcast live on IPR News Radio. Listen online or with a mobile device or on the radio to WICA-FM 91.5 Traverse City, WHBP-FM 90.1 Harbor Springs, or WLMN-FM 89.7 Manistee and other NPR affiliates in Michigan.

WTVS Detroit Public Television will offer a livestream of the event at www.dptv.org

Read about FLOW’s Helen and William G. Milliken Fund For Love of Water, and learn about your opportunity to make a gift to extend the former First Family of Michigan’s legacy of equity and environmental protection.

Watch FLOW’s Video Testimonials Honoring Gov. William and Helen Milliken. Enjoy remembrances and reflections from Bill Milliken, Jr., Ann Rogers, Bill Rustem, and many others.

FLOW’s Video Testimonials Honoring Gov. William and Helen Milliken

Michigan’s late Governor William G. Milliken will be 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 is also publishing a series of video interviews between now and 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.”
 

FLOW Launches “Helen & William G. Milliken Fund For Love of Water”

With the approach of the August 6, 2020, memorial service for beloved former Michigan Governor William G. Milliken, FLOW is honored to announce the creation of the Helen and William G. Milliken Fund For Love of Water to extend the former First Family of Michigan’s legacy of equity and environmental protection.

The Milliken Fund is designed to support work that protects the Great Lakes and the public trust rights of those who depend on them, inspires community action advancing environmental stewardship, and sustains internships at FLOW—which is based in Governor Milliken’s hometown of Traverse City—to foster a new generation of environmental leaders. (Click here to read about this summer’s inaugural FLOW Milliken Fund Interns, Zoe Gum and Emma Moulton).

Established at FLOW by a bequest from the Milliken family, the Milliken Fund is welcoming donations from members of the public interested in investing in and extending Helen and Governor Milliken’s legacy of protecting the environment and especially the Great Lakes, advancing social equity, and promoting civility and bipartisanship.

“Organizations like FLOW have built themselves around the same policies that both of my parents advocated,” said Bill Milliken, Jr., a prominent Ann Arbor commercial realtor, who carries on the family tradition of public service in multiple roles, including as a board member of the Mackinac Bridge Authority, Washtenaw Community College, New Detroit, and the Groundwork Center. “Supporting FLOW helps make their legacy more visible.”

The longest-serving governor in Michigan’s history whose public service reached back to World War II, William G. Milliken passed away October 18, 2019, in Traverse City at age 97. He served as governor of Michigan from 1969 to 1983. He was preceded in death by the passing in late 2012 of his wife Helen, who also earned a reputation for environmental stewardship, elevation of women’s rights, advocacy for the arts, and an abiding decency toward others.

The memorial service and celebration of Governor Milliken’s life will take place at 2:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday, August 6, at the 4,000-seat, open-air Kresge Auditorium at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, where he served on the Board of Trustees from 1983-1997. The gathering is free and open to the public. 

Speakers at the August 6 event include Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer; Bill Rustem, a senior policy advisor in both the Milliken and Snyder administrations; Capt. Arlan Brower, retired from the Michigan State Police; Chuck Stokes of WXYZ-TV; and journalist and longtime friend Jack Lessenberry. Those attending are encouraged to arrive early and be seated to help accommodate Governor Whitmer’s schedule. The memorial also will be broadcast live on IPR News Radio. Listen online or with a mobile device or on the radio to WICA-FM 91.5 Traverse City, WHBP-FM 90.1 Harbor Springs, or WLMN-FM 89.7 Manistee.

“It’s an honor for FLOW to be associated with Governor Milliken’s life and legacy, including his many environmental accomplishments,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW. “The Governor and his wife Helen did so much for our air, land, water, fish, and wildlife, and their efforts continue to benefit Michigan and all who live and visit here. We pledge to extend those efforts and engage the public, communities, and emerging environmental leaders in the shared effort.”

“We are deeply grateful to the Milliken family for their selecting FLOW to carry on the good works of Bill and Helen Milliken,” said FLOW founder and legal advisor Jim Olson, a Traverse City native and friend of Governor Milliken and his family. “We are inspired by their leadership that elevated the State of Michigan to be a national leader in the strength and scope of its environmental laws and policies, many of them directly addressing Great Lakes water diversion and  water quality issues.”

The Governor’s environmental accomplishments include:

  • The signing of Michigan’s landmark Environmental Protection Act on July 27, 1970;
  • Critical support for Michigan’s beverage container deposit law, which Michigan voters approved in the 1975 general election;
  • Leadership to enact Michigan’s nationally-recognized Wetland Protection Act;
  • Expanding state funding of recreation and parks programs to include urban areas like Detroit;
  • Controls on phosphorus pollution from detergent soaps, which led to dramatic reductions in algae blooms; and
  • The signing of laws to protect sand dunes, control hazardous waste, promote recycling, and create what is now the Natural Resources Trust Fund, which has provided more than $1 billion to purchase and steward recreational and environmentally significant land.

FLOW senior policy advisor Dave Dempsey, an author of several books on the Great Lakes and Michigan’s environment, wrote in his 2006 biography, William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate, “Governor Milliken is Michigan’s gold standard for environmental stewardship, civility in public life and a concern for all the citizens of Michigan. It was a profound pleasure to get to know the Millikens in the course of writing the biography.”

Before becoming Governor, William G. Milliken served in the state senate and as the state’s lieutenant governor. He also was president of the former Milliken’s department stores. He flew 50 combat missions in Europe during World War II, surviving two crash landings and receiving seven military honors, including the Purple Heart and Air Medal.


August 6 — 2:00 pm EDT Memorial Service for Governor William G. Milliken at Interlochen Center for the Arts

The memorial service and celebration of Governor Milliken’s life will take place at 2:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday, August 6, at the 4,000-seat, open-air Kresge Auditorium at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, where he served on the Board of Trustees from 1983-1997. The gathering is free and open to the public. Speakers at the August 6 event include Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer; Bill Rustem, a senior policy advisor in both the Milliken and Snyder administrations; Capt. Arlan Brower, retired from the Michigan State Police; Chuck Stokes of WXYZ-TV; and journalist and longtime friend Jack Lessenberry. Those attending are encouraged to arrive early and be seated to help accommodate Governor Whitmer’s schedule.

Attendees are asked to register for the memorial service so that capacity can be monitored in an effort to plan for social distancing and other health and safety considerations. Please visit Eventbrite to register. Capacity will be limited and registration does not confirm a reservation. Attendees are asked to plan to honor public health safety measures including face coverings and adhering to physical distancing. 

The memorial will be broadcast live on IPR News Radio. Listen online or with a mobile device or on the radio to WICA-FM 91.5 Traverse City, WHBP-FM 90.1 Harbor Springs, or WLMN-FM 89.7 Manistee and other NPR affiliates in Michigan.

WTVS Detroit Public Television will offer a livestream of the event at www.dptv.org

Read about FLOW’s Helen and William G. Milliken Fund For Love of Water, and learn about your opportunity to make a gift to extend the former First Family of Michigan’s legacy of equity and environmental protection.

Watch FLOW’s Video Testimonials Honoring Gov. William and Helen Milliken. Enjoy remembrances and reflections from Bill Milliken, Jr., Ann Rogers, Bill Rustem, and many others.

 

Looking Back in Remembrance: Gov. William Milliken’s 98th Birthday

Today, March 26, would have been the 98th birthday of Michigan Governor William G. Milliken, whose leadership in the 1970s and 1980s put Michigan at the forefront of the 50 states in environmental protection. Born in Traverse City and raised close to Grand Traverse Bay, Milliken developed an early appreciation for Michigan’s majestic waters.

As Governor from 1969-1982, he advocated and signed into law the major statutes that are still the framework for Michigan environmental policy. A partial list includes the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, the Natural Rivers Act, the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act, the bottle deposit law, what is now the Natural Resources Trust Fund, controls on sources of algae blooms in western Lake Erie, and the Wetland Protection Act.

When the Governor passed away last October, FLOW was honored to be named one of two nonprofit environmental organizations to be designated by his family to receive memorial contributions in his name. We continue to accept such donations and will carry on work in Governor Milliken’s name, focusing on protection of the Great Lakes, groundwater and drinking water for all.

To donate to FLOW in honor of Gov. Milliken, please click on our Donate page, fill out all required fields, and write “Governor Milliken” in the bottom field. Thank you.

To learn the full story of the Governor’s environmental leadership, read a tribute to his life and work by FLOW senior policy advisor and Milliken biographer Dave Dempsey.

FLOW’s Work is a Matter of the Heart

By Mike Vickery, FLOW Board Chair, and Liz Kirkwood, FLOW Executive Director 

As we reflect on FLOW’s work, it seems appropriate to quote FLOW supporter, and author, Jerry Beasley. “What is fundamental about our relationship with water is a matter of the heart, ” writes Beasley. “If the heart is not engaged, the waters will not be saved.”

FLOW’s 2019 annual report, which you can view here, highlights what we have accomplished during the past fiscal year.

All of FLOW’s programs are designed to protect our Great Lakes, surface water, and groundwater for all of us to enjoy and sustain ourselves. Together we are helping to restore the rule of law on Line 5 and in legal cases involving Nestlé’s insatiable thirst for Michigan’s groundwater. We are developing protective policies and environmental education campaigns and collaborating on water infrastructure solutions that are fair to all. In this age of climate change and high water in the Great Lakes Basin, we need to make sure that no one treats our water as a high-risk shortcut or a commodity.

Thanks to your generous support, FLOW in 2019 made significant strides in our policy work while celebrating our shared love of water. Our report details these key accomplishments.

We remain inspired by the legacy of environmental stewardship of a beloved and influential Great Lakes luminary, former Michigan Governor William G. Milliken, who passed away in October 2019. We include a memorial tribute to the Governor in this report.

“In Michigan,” Gov. Milliken said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”

Developing a deep sense of stewardship for our Great Lakes also means celebrating the creativity sparked by these magnificent freshwater resources. In the annual report you’ll learn about several special moments in FLOW’s ongoing initiative to honor the space where Art Meets Water.

As we pause to reflect on our 2019 accomplishments, we are deeply grateful to the community of supporters who fuel our work. Thank you for your generosity, your passion for our waters, and your dedicated stewardship.

We look forward to increasing the momentum in 2020 and the new decade. Together, we’re moving forward with solutions to Great Lakes water issues based on science and law—solutions that inspire real hope for our water in all who love it.

We enter this consequential new decade heartened by your support and your confidence in FLOW’s ability to meet the significant challenges that lie ahead. Our mantra in 2020, no matter what it brings, is to “just do the next right thing” for the love of water.

Carrying on Governor Milliken’s Environmental Legacy

Gov. William G. Milliken, Traverse City’s native son and Michigan’s longest-serving governor, who passed away October 18 at age 97, left behind an important legacy of environmental protection, good governmental policy, and civility in public discourse.

As Michiganders, we’re deeply proud of Gov. Milliken and mourn his passing, too. FLOW senior policy adviser Dave Dempsey, who wrote Gov. Milliken’s biography, knew him and his wife Helen well, and authored this remembrance.

After he left office, Milliken summarized his environmental values: “In Michigan,” he said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”

It is the responsibility of FLOW and other environmental stewards to take up Gov. Milliken’s torch and carry it forward. We must preserve our Great Lakes, wetlands, and drinking water held in public trust for all of us, and stop polluters from soiling these most precious resources—which represents 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater. We will help carry that torch both with honor and humility.

You can learn more about Gov. Milliken’s life in the family tribute posted here.  FLOW gratefully acknowledges the Milliken family’s suggestion that memorial donations in Governor William G. Milliken’s name be made to FLOW and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. We will carry on the Milliken legacy of environmental stewardship and hope for the future.

To donate to FLOW in honor of Gov. Milliken, please click on our Donate page, fill out all required fields, and write “Governor Milliken” in the bottom field. Thank you.

Remembering Governor William Milliken, Protector of Michigan’s Environmental Soul

By Dave Dempsey

Michigan has many magnificent natural features, but none is quite like Hartwick Pines. A small remnant of the great white pine forest that spanned millions of acres of Michigan before the European arrival, the 49 acres at the heart of Hartwick Pines contain trees as tall as 160 feet and as old as 400 years. When, in 1992, a storm mortally wounded the tallest and largest of the primeval trees, known as the Monarch, it generated news headlines.

Another great tree has fallen. On Friday, October 18, former Governor William G. Milliken passed away at age 97 in Traverse City. The longest-serving governor in the history of Michigan, Milliken distinguished himself in numerous other ways, several of which seem especially important today. 

Former Vermont Governor Richard Snelling in 1982 suggested that Milliken “will surely be recorded in history as one of the nation’s great governors.” The day after Milliken’s passing, the Traverse City Record-Eagle wrote in an editorial that, “We cherish our governor … for his most precious quality: his innate ability to set aside party, politics and partisanship for the good of all Michiganders”.

Perhaps the Governor’s most lasting policy legacy is the framework of environmental laws that came into being during his 14 years in office, from 1969 to 1982. It was a case of the right person at the right time. As public consciousness of a century of environmental neglect and abuse peaked, and a clamor for a new approach grew to a crescendo, Governor Milliken took the initiative to propose or support, and ultimately sign into law the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, the Wetland Protection Act, the Wilderness and Natural Areas Act, the Sand Dune Management and Protection Act, and many more. When the Legislature deadlocked on a proposed recycling deposit on beer and soda containers, he helped lead a citizen initiative to put the proposed law on the ballot. Voters approved it by a two-to-one margin in 1976.

Even in the 1970s, the decade of the first Earth Day, it wasn’t always politically easy to push for a cleaner environment. When scientists identified phosphorus laundry soaps as a major contributor to the algae blooms in western Lake Erie and elsewhere, the proposed remedy was a strict limitation on phosphorus content. Major Republican contributors strongly opposed the change, but Milliken defied them and took aggressive action to bring it into effect. Within only several years phosphorus discharges from wastewater treatment plants plummeted and Lake Erie began to recover.

Another important part of the Milliken record was his concern for the state’s great cities, including Detroit, which was deeply distressed during the 1970s. Working with Democratic Mayor Coleman Young, he invested state and federal resources in the city and won political support unusual for a Republican in the city. Today Milliken’s name crowns Michigan’s first urban state park on the Detroit waterfront.

Milliken’s regard for Michigan’s environment began early. His Traverse City upbringing (and a cottage in nearby Acme) acquainted him with woods and waters. Among his earliest memories were outdoor outings and swimming in Grand Traverse Bay. Deeply rooted in his home community, he frequently returned on weekends to his house on the bay while governor, finding peace and renewal.

But the Governor’s environmental record and values are not his only legacy. His style of governance—shunning the extremes, looking for solutions on which diverse interests could compromise for the public good—was the ultimate trademark of his service. In a time of divided government, when Democrats largely controlled the Legislature, he was able to enact his program through negotiation and cooperation.

Governor Milliken did not demonize his opponents. Public name-calling was foreign to him. And his civility worked. He remained in office longer than any other governor of Michigan in part because voters trusted him to do the right thing.

In researching and writing Governor Milliken’s biography, William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate, I was honored to spend many hours with him and his wife Helen Milliken, a major historical figure in her own right. They were in person as they were in public—unfailingly gracious, kind, and reflective. There was nothing false or inauthentic about them.

Bill and Helen Milliken

In our time together, both Millikens spoke repeatedly of their appreciation of Michigan’s beauty and the need to continue fighting to protect it. It should not be forgotten that it was Helen Milliken who alerted her husband to the controversy over oil development in the wilds of the Pigeon River Country State Forest, and urged him to take a stand in favor of the forest’s conservation. She was a major influence on his environmental policies.

After he left office, he famously summarized his environmental values: “In Michigan,” he said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather, it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”

A part of Michigan’s soul passed from the scene last week, but thanks to Governor Milliken’s work, our soul will renew itself for generations to come.

Dave Dempsey, FLOW’s senior policy adviser, wrote the award-winning biography William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate (University of Michigan Press, 2006).

A memorial service for Governor Milliken will be held in May 2020. The Milliken family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory and in support of his environmental legacy be made to FLOW and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

The Green Governor

One governor of Michigan is remembered in large part because of his environmental ethic and accomplishments. William G. Milliken of Traverse City, who turns 97 on Tuesday, March 26, supported and signed into law most of Michigan’s modern environmental laws while he was the state’s chief executive from 1969-1982.

Governor Milliken said his environmental commitment was forged growing up in the water-rich environment of Traverse City. And water cleanup is a key feature of his record, including a ban on high-phosphate detergents that led to a sharp reduction in algae blooms.

Measures signed into law by Governor Milliken include the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, Wetland Protection Act, Sand Dune Protection and Management Act, and many more.

FLOW has wished the Governor a happy birthday beforeand we do so again. His is an environmental legacy that remains evergreen.


The Environmental Governor

On Monday, Traverse City’s own William G. Milliken, the state’s longest serving governor, turns 96.  It’s an appropriate time to reflect not only on his outstanding environmental record — the best of any chief executive of Michigan — but also on his legacy of civility and decency, as scarce these days in public life as rainfall in the desert.
 
Taking office a year before the first Earth Day in 1970, Governor Milliken put environmental issues high on his agenda.  During his nearly 14 years in office he was instrumental in crafting the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Inland Lakes and Streams Act, the Wetland Protection Act, and the state’s nationally-renowned deposit law for beverage containers.  He also signed laws improving management of hazardous and solid waste, protecting sand dunes, banning oil drilling in the Great Lakes, and creating the predecessor of the state’s monumentally successful Natural Resources Trust Fund.
 
He was the first governor to warn of the threat of Great Lakes water diversion, convening a conference on the subject in 1982.  That led to Michigan law and regional policies banning most diversions.

 

Governor Milliken

It wasn’t always easy, or popular in the Governor’s own political party.  He overrode objections from a key

party backer to support a rule reducing phosphate content in laundry soaps, leading to an almost immediate reduction in algae blooms.

 
Governor Milliken also considered the fate of Detroit closely linked to the vitality of Michigan.  It’s regrettable that his strong support for mass transit in southeast Michigan — and the significant environmental and social benefits that would have resulted — was thwarted by skeptics.  
 
The Governor credited his youth in northern Michigan as a major influence in his political support for environmental protection.  He spent summers at his family’s cottage at Acme on the east arm of Traverse Bay. He enjoyed fishing, canoeing, and sailing.
 
Moderate in political philosophy, Republican Governor Milliken was statesmanlike in tone.  He was willing and able to work with legislators of various political philosophies, and refrained from demonizing any.  That, too, is part of his legacy.
 
“In Michigan,” he said, “our soul is not to be found in steel and concrete, or sprawling new housing developments or strip malls. Rather it is found in the soft petals of a trillium, the gentle whisper of a headwater stream, the vista of a Great Lakes shoreline, and the wonder in children’s eyes upon seeing their first bald eagle. It is that soul that we must preserve.”
 
The Governor’s work goes on. It is the work of all Michiganders.