Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

June 4, 2013

Helen Milliken’s influence recalled

TRAVERSE CITY — Helen Milliken’s battles still aren’t finished, an environmentalist pointed out on the day hundreds gathered to remember the former Michigan first lady’s legacy.

A proposed Hartman-Hammond bypass around Traverse City is back on the Grand Traverse County board agenda. In February 2000, Helen Milliken stood on the frigid bank of the Boardman River to speak against the plan.

“It was 5 degrees out with deep snow,” said Hans Voss, executive director of the Michigan Land Use Institute. “We said, ‘Helen! Are you sure you want to do this?’ She didn’t flinch a second. She made a speech of a lifetime.”

Those she touched during Gov. William Milliken’s 1969-83 tenure and beyond remembered Helen Milliken in glowing terms on Monday. She advocated for many issues, including the Equal Rights Amendment, Art Train, billboard control, and a restriction on oil drilling in the Pigeon River State Forest.

Kathleen Glynn, interviewed before the memorial, said Helen’s views on women’s rights inspired her to start an underground, feminist newspaper in the 1970s. Glynn later produced her husband Michael Moore’s documentary, “Bowling for Columbine.”

“When I finally did get to meet her, I told her, ‘You don’t know what you meant to me,’” she said.

Bill Rustem, a key Milliken staffer, said Helen never worried that her activism would somehow jeopardize her husband’s career.

“She had great political instincts and knew just how far to push the envelope. She could have run for office,” he said.

In fact, Democrat Howard Wolpe asked her to run as his lieutenant governor in 1994. Helen “was too smart” to take him up on the offer, Rustem said.

Jennifer Milliken Rubiello, 22, said she grew up listening to her great-aunt Helen talk about how she overcame obstacles as a woman.

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