TRAVERSE CITY — Elnora Toldo Milliken recently caught a few shows of the Old Town Playhouse production of "Mamma Mia."
She voiced an intro for Interlochen Public Radio's "Kids Commute" show. She attended a Traverse City Ikebana Club meeting.
The 90-something-year-old woman died of natural causes at her home in Traverse City on January 11, serving her community into her last days.
"She supported the Playhouse to the very end," said OTP interim Executive Project Manager Phil Murphy. "She definitely leaves behind a profound cultural legacy.”
Milliken was a founding member of both OTP and Traverse Symphony Orchestra. She was a member of the Friendly Garden Club for over 50 years, a founding member of the Traverse City Ikebana Club, and involved in the early planning efforts for the Botanical Gardens. She also served on the board of Interlochen Public Radio for more than 20 years.
Her achievements led to the 2011 Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Citizens Award.
Milliken began working to benefit Traverse City soon after her arrival in 1950 with her husband, Dr. John Milliken, who had grown up here.
She immediately carved out her own place in the community. A gifted musician, her musical training in piano and violin had begun in early elementary school in Minnesota. It continued through conservatory training, and college and graduate studies at Northwestern University in Chicago.
In Traverse City, Elnora Milliken discovered there was no local orchestra in which she could play. Never one to let such things stand in her way, she soon raised money and recruited other local musicians to help form the Northern Michigan Symphony Orchestra — the forerunner of the TSO.
One of her sons, Dr. James Milliken, recalls music filling his childhood home.
“All us children learned to play an instrument, although none of us were blessed with the professional-caliber talent my mother inherited from her father. She would practice every night, and I’m afraid that as a youth I wasn’t always as appreciative of her talent as I should have been. Sometimes I would have a hard time concentrating with all that practicing going on, and I would ask if she could stop for a while. Her response was to remind me of the importance of music, and instruct me that I would simply need to work with the situation.”
Daughter Penny Milliken also remembers her mother’s strong sense of self, and her willingness to share her opinions. “I will always take delight in remembering my mother’s reaction to anyone who spoke about “getting old” or “aging.” My mother would firmly respond ‘You should call it ‘advancing,’ not ‘aging’!”
Elnora Milliken was talented at expressing herself in other ways, said long-time Friendly Garden Club member Peg Jonkhoff.
“Elnora absolutely loved flower arranging. She had this wonderful saying ‘Express yourself through flowers every day’.” She also was a strong supporter of efforts to educate about the importance of pesticide-free horticulture and especially about the value of good nutrition. But even when addressing such serious issues she was always a lot of fun, and approached all things with a flash of that wonderful smile of hers. She was active up until quite recently.”
Milliken and her husband had five children: Sherry Milliken (Bob) Reum, Dr. James (MaryBeth) Milliken, Penny Milliken, and Dr. JP (Darcy) Milliken; and a daughter Wendy.
Donations in memory of Elnora may be made to the Traverse Symphony Orchestra or to the Old Town Playhouse. A celebration of her life will be held at the Dennos Museum Center on March 30 from 4-6 p.m.