Students studying outside the library

Wofford College loses great friend Roger Milliken

Milliken with students 382x255

Roger Milliken Tribute Web Site

Textile magnate, philanthropist has died at age 95 

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Members of the Wofford College community remember Roger Milliken not only as a prominent benefactor who insisted on sound financial management, but as an ideal trustee whose life and vision leave a permanent legacy that reflects 55 years of service to the college, where he worked with five presidents. Milliken died Thursday, Dec. 30, at the age of 95.

Wofford President Benjamin B. Dunlap reacted to the news of Milliken’s death:

“How many others must feel as I do that we’ve lost a friend whose contagious delight in learning new things and solving old problems made us all feel more alive. He was an extraordinary friend to Wofford College – more than 50 years on its board, he transformed every square inch of the campus and many of us who worked there as well. That he prized both quality and efficiency is widely known, but I think he loved creativity even more.

“If he regretted anything,” Dunlap continued, “it was probably that he hadn't been trained as an architect – though it was clear to anyone who ever assisted him on a project that, like Frederick the Great, he truly was one. If there was a gap in what he knew about himself, I think it stemmed from the fact that he was so avid a learner that he never fully realized how great a teacher he'd become. For myself, I'm sorry I never made it clear that, though he prompted reverence, awe and gratitude in everyone he met, there were many like me who also felt a deep affection . . . and many more who, but for his tutelage might never have rejoiced in early-morning sunlight gilding a noble tree.”

Milliken served four 12-year terms as a member of the Wofford Board of Trustees, and was named the first – and so far, only – “trustee emeritus” in 2008. While that year marked the end of Milliken’s service on the board, he continued to be active with numerous college projects – most notably the Milliken Faculty Seminar Abroad program and a campus-wide “sustainability” audit.

Milliken once said, “I am a product of a liberal arts education .… In too many cases, potential Nobel Prize winners have failed to be recognized because they had not developed the written and oral skills that a liberal arts education teaches and inculcates. I believe this approach to education lays the groundwork for a lifetime commitment to continuous learning and receptiveness to positive change. Of course, I would add immediately that any complete liberal arts education includes the requirement to take courses in science and mathematics ….”

In 1994, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges honored him with its 14th Distinguished Service Award in Trusteeship, an honor annually given to one trustee at a public institution and one trustee at a private institution.

Born on Oct. 24, 1915, Milliken majored in French history at Yale University, graduating in 1937. Ten years later, he inherited a controlling interest in his family’s major textile firm, Deering Milliken (now Milliken & Co.).

In 1954, Milliken and his family relocated from New York to Spartanburg. The company headquarters followed in 1958, but by then, he already had adopted Wofford College and had agreed to serve on its board.

In his early years on the board, Milliken focused on strengthening the college’s overall financial situation. He challenged alumni to get more involved in creating a viable “living endowment.” Alumni participation in the 1956 Annual Fund rose to almost 75 percent. The effort led to a commendation for Milliken from Marquis Who’s Who Inc. Feeling that Wofford’s planning, business and development offices required experienced staffs with recognized credentials, and he supported cost-effective expansion of those operations. He also encouraged the use of able consultants on management innovations such as “Forward Funding” for Annual Giving revenue.

In the late 1980s, Wofford embarked on a planning process to establish new vision and new directions for the college called “To Improve Quality.” Milliken headed a committee on research and development. Adoption of the long-term $100 million 1987 Masterplan signaled new momentum and set dramatically new goals for the college. Wofford subsequently launched a $33.3 million campaign for Wofford, “An Investment in People.” Successful completion of this effort was announced in December 1991, after the college received a prestigious $5.5 million building grant from the F.W. Olin Foundation and three gifts of $1 million each from Milliken, Milliken and Co., and the Reeves Foundation Inc.

Accelerated progress in landscaping and acquisition of adjacent property to the north and east of Wofford’s campus soon followed, largely because of Milliken’s generosity. By 2010, the Wofford campus had doubled in size from the acreage it occupied in the early 1970s, and the historic district had been restored to an appealing pedestrian-friendly landscape. Wofford’s entire campus is a nationally recognized arboretum, named the Roger Milliken Arboretum at Wofford College in 2008. In October each year, the college observes Roger Milliken Day on his birthday, planting a tree on campus in his honor.

As Wofford approached its sesquicentennial year in 2004, Milliken pledged $5 million for the sciences at the college if others would contribute $9 million. Trustees responded to the challenge and approved plans to build a new science center. The new Roger Milliken Science Center formally opened in April 2001. Three years later, Dr. Ellen Goldey, professor of biology at Wofford, received the first annual Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science. Milliken provided $1 million to endow this uniquely generous program, which makes available $50,000 in professional development resources for outstanding faculty over a 10-year period. At the same time, he also provided $1 million for a science equipment fund.
Even after becoming trustee emeritus, Milliken attended almost every board meeting and made a five-year commitment for the Milliken Faculty Seminar Abroad. The January 2011 Interim will mark the third session of the study abroad program for faculty and staff. Milliken also supported and provided funding for a just-completed campus-wide “sustainability audit” conducted by Jeff Ross-Bain. The Atlanta-based environmental engineer and architect is considered by many to the nation’s leading authority on “green building.”

Many observed that Milliken probably was happiest on Wofford’s campus when he was involved in interacting with students, and he created opportunities for them to interact with his world-class education process he developed at Milliken & Co. The company and Wofford partnered on the Milliken/Wofford Summer Leadership Institute for leading high school students from across the Carolinas and Georgia. The college and Milliken also partnered on the Milliken Summer Challenge, an annual real-world problem-solving exercise for Wofford students and professors.

Funeral services have been set for 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 3, at the Episcopal Church of the Advent, according to J.F. Floyd Mortuary’s Web site.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to be sent to The Noble Tree Foundation in care of The Spartanburg County Foundation, 424 E. Kennedy St., Spartanburg, SC 29302.