Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 21, 2012

Forum: Institute lost true friend

The Michigan Land Use Institute lost a dear friend last week in Helen Milliken. The former first lady was a longtime supporter and steadfast champion of our work. Most importantly, she was a wonderful person who inspired people across the state of Michigan.

Helen and Gov. William Milliken were among the first to highlight the connection between a clean environment and a strong economy. It was around these core values that the Institute was founded in 1995 and it's the philosophy that continues to guide our efforts today.

Helen joined the Institute's Board of Directors in 1998 and played an active role up until late 2011. From our early work in oil and gas education and advocacy to our recent farm-to-school efforts to bring local food to northern Michigan schools, Helen kept a close handle on our programs and was always willing to share her wisdom. She also memorably took a stand 10 years ago when she served as the lead spokesperson for a widespread — and successful — community campaign to create an alternative to a proposed $30 million road and bridge across the Boardman River south of Traverse City.

We continue to honor the Millikens' work with our annual Milliken Leadership Award. Since 2008, we've recognized: Institute founder Keith Schneider; Black Star Farms President Don Coe; environmental attorney Jim Olson; and Marsha Smith, Rotary Charities executive director and Grand Vision leader.

We've created a tribute page on our site for people to share their memories of Helen. You'll find statements there from Keith Schneider, our board chair Craig Sharp, and others. If you have reflections to share about Helen, please add your comment at the bottom of the page. We'd love to share your thoughts on the site.

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 Institute.

I am forever thankful to have had the chance to know Helen Milliken over the last 15 years. She was a truly beautiful soul. I am dedicated to working with my colleagues at the Institute — and the many, many people working together in this shared movement — to carry on her powerful legacy.

About the author: Hans Voss is Executive Director of the Michigan Land Use Institute.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing Please include biographical information and a photo.

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