The Day School community mourns the passing of Mr. Roger Milliken
Posted December 31, 2010
Much will be written and said about Roger Milliken across the globe. All who knew him will seek ways to exalt and celebrate the life of a remarkable man. To Spartanburg Day School, he has always been known as a founder, benefactor and parent who brought many of the same qualities that made him spectacularly successful in the business world to the development of the school he helped found in 1957. Although SDS is the gratifying result of the vision and hard work of many, many dedicated people, Mr. Milliken will forever hold a place of honor as an unparalleled visionary, leader and philanthropist.
Mr. Milliken and his fellow founders envisioned an independent school with a top-notch curriculum, small classes and an outstanding faculty. To that end, Mr. Milliken provided the original location for the school at the Drayton Community Building and several nearby cottages. Later, he was involved in the development of the current site on Skylyn Drive.
Mr. Milliken was involved in every aspect of building the school – including helping with the creation of school by-laws. These by-laws have ensured that institutional memory and continuity are preserved through sustaining board members and have created a solid financial foundation that has resulted in a rare achievement - a school with no debt and forward funding. His establishment of the Seth Milliken Foundation in 1971 made a balanced budget one of the criteria for receiving foundation funds to support the operation of the school. Mr. Milliken remained a sustaining member of the Board of Trustees since its inception.
Mr. Milliken’s gifts to the school often came in the form of a challenge. The campaign to build the gym in the 60’s, the Lower School in the 80’s and the Fine Arts Center in the 90’s all centered around challenge gifts from Milliken, who was ever mindful that the success of a school is built on many supporters. He kept the SDS community working to maintain a broad base of support. Most recently he enlisted the help of his brother, Gerrish Milliken. Together they made a leadership challenge donation of $2 million to spearhead a renovation project that allowed the school to obtain LEED Certification. Insistence on having only the best is a principle that has guided the school for over 53 years, and has certainly marked the Millikens’ endeavors throughout their expansive careers.
From the very start, the landscaping at the Day School reflected a deep interest in beautification that has marked all of Mr. Milliken’s building projects. For the Day School grounds, he hired nationally known experts - including horticulturalists Richard C. Webel of Innocenti & Webel and tree expert Dr. Mike Dirr - to plan and implement the beautiful landscaping that surrounds the campus. The recent construction of new athletic fields and the new Susan A. Bridges Dining Commons also enjoyed national expertise, courtesy of Mr. Milliken.
Mr. Milliken’s financial support of the Day School has been personal in nature - not only with the creation of the Seth Milliken Foundation - but also through the Romill Foundation which disbursed his charitable funds and since the early 80’s has provided millions of dollars in support of the Annual Fund. In ways large and small - many of which have gone unheralded - Mr. Milliken has ensured that the Day School has had the critical support it needs to be the institution that its founders envisioned over five decades ago.
On a personal level, the five Milliken children, Jan, Nancy, Roger, David and Weston attended the Day School for a collective total of 39 years – a tribute to the faith that Roger and Nita Milliken had in the school that they helped to create.
During the children’s school years, their mother was very much with them as a vital member of The Mother’s Club. Mrs. Milliken’s work was always hands-on. Before the school had a cafeteria, she would come to school in the morning and make vegetable soup so that students would have a hot lunch. She led book drives to get students to donate books to the school. She started the Annual SDS Book Fair to raise much-needed funds to support the school library. In 1962, the library on the “new” campus was named for Nita Milliken. When memorials were designated to the school in memory of Mrs. Milliken, a plan was developed to renovate the school’s main library in her honor, a project that benefits students to this day. The Mother’s Club that Mrs. Milliken supported so ardently sees its legacy continued today with the day-to-day involvement of the Parent’s Club, one of the signature successes of the Day School family.
Headmaster Chris Dorrance commented, "His influence was obviously legendary in the (Day School's) beginning, but I think what is remarkable is how strong his influence has been in the last five years, as you look at the footprint of the campus and the facilities. The Day School and the community have been long-time beneficiaries of his interests and his passion. His last project for us was the greening of our original buildings, the buildings he helped build and design. That gave him great pleasure. He insisted we go geothermal. He insisted we be LEED certified. He so enjoyed helping make those kinds of decisions...He was a man of strong convictions and principals, and he acted on them. He lived a very full life. We've lost a lion of a man in this community."
But the greatest testament to the Milliken legacy at the Day School is in the educational and career opportunities for its students going forward. Every small child that walks the corridors of the Day School benefits to a great degree from a man whose vision knew no bounds.
On the day of his passing, memorial gifts began arriving at the school as people sought ways to honor a man who gave so much to all around him. Memorial gifts will be designated to the Milliken Scholarship Fund, which supports capable students who seek the high-caliber of education Mr. Milliken helped to make possible in the Upstate.
Three years ago during a program on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the school recognizing his contributions, the kindergarten class saluted him with a catchy jingle as the crowd broke out in a collective cheer:
M – I – double L – I – K – E – N spells Milliken! You’re our founder and our benefactor. Milliken, the man who makes us better!
M – I – double L – I – K – E – N’s the best! We at the Day School salute you For 50 years’ success!
THANK YOU, MR. MILLIKEN!