Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 17, 2012

'Grace and guts’: Helen Milliken wore many hats

TRAVERSE CITY — Michigan's longest serving First Lady, Helen Milliken wore many hats during her 89 years of living that ended with her death early Friday:

Mother, governor's wife, environmentalist, women's rights activist, world traveler and arts supporter with a love for gardening and landscape architecture.

Born and raised in Colorado, she moved to Traverse City with her husband, William G. Milliken, after his graduation from Yale in 1946.

Known statewide as a vigorous spokeswoman for the Equal Rights Amendment and women's rights, Helen Milliken also was an avid environmentalist. She advocated for billboard control, the bottle deposit law and a restriction on oil drilling in the Pigeon River State Forest during her husband's 14 years as governor (1969-1983).

"She's the best example of grace and guts I've ever met," said Lana Pollack, who was a state senator serving around the end of Gov. Milliken's final term and kept in touch with Helen Milliken over the years. "She was an inspiration, a role model and an important woman in American history."

In northern Michigan, she is recognized for her support for survivors of domestic violence. "Helen's House," the Grand Traverse Area Women's Resource Center's shelter home for victims of spouse and child abuse is named for her.

Her local environmental advocacy includes support for area nature and land conservancies, farm markets and environmental and land policy nonprofits such as Michigan Land Use Institute.

She served on the board of the Michigan Land Use Institute, the Nature Conservancy, Dennos Museum and Planned Parenthood. She was a longtime member of the area Women's Resource Center.

A long-time supporter of the Michigan Council for the Arts, she was honorary chairwoman of the Michigan Artrain, the nation's only touring art museum in a train. It launched its first trip from Traverse City in 1971 and soon after began nationwide tours.

The studio car was named "The Helen W. Milliken Studio" in 1983. By then, it had visited many Michigan cities and more than 200 communities in 23 states.

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