Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Obituary: Frederick W. Miller - Class of 1930

Fred Miller Dies At 91
He Guided Paper's Evjue Foundation

Frederick W. Miller, 91, who for more than two decades led The Capital Times Co. and was long the guiding light behind The Evjue Foundation, the newspaper's charity, died late Monday night after a brief illness.

Born March 18, 1912, he passed away at the Don and Marilyn Anderson HospiceCare Center in the room facing the garden that had been named in honor of his late wife, Vi. He had been taken to the hospice last Friday when he began having severe breathing problems brought on by heart failure.

Mr. Miller was active at the newspaper until a few days ago, keeping office hours every morning and taking part in numerous social and civic events in the evenings. He was particularly proud of his role as treasurer of The Evjue Foundation Inc., which under his tutelage grew from a meager beginning to an institution with more than $25 million in assets that distributes more than $2 million annually to the community.

"Fred Miller was a rock of strength to us in the newsroom," said Dave Zweifel, editor of The Capital Times. "We are going to miss him tremendously."

Although he had been close to The Capital Times since 1939 when he married Violet Jane Bagley, the niece of William T. Evjue, the paper's founder, and Zillah Evjue, he didn't take an active daily role in the paper until 1978 when its second publisher, Miles McMillin, retired.

At the time, Mr. Miller had just retired himself after working as an attorney for the state of Wisconsin for more than 41 years. He was hired by the state fresh out of the UW Law School in 1936 to help set up the state's first unemployment compensation program. He worked in the division as an attorney and then later as an administrative law judge until 1977.

While he was still working with the state, Mr. Miller had been elected to The Capital Times' board of directors in 1951, and when McMillin retired in 1978, the board selected him to be the company's president and the newspaper's third publisher. He relinquished those two posts to Clayton Frink in 1993 but retained the title of chairman of the board and continued his leading role with the foundation and the William T. Evjue Charitable Trust until his death.

"Fred was a firm but gentle leader, helping The Capital Times continue in the tradition begun by Mr. Evjue," Frink said today. "His leadership allowed our company to grow and prosper and continue as a strong voice in the Madison area community."

Jerry Frautschi, a member of The Evjue Foundation board whose $100 million gift to the city inspired the Overture Center, now under construction, said Mr. Miller's death is "a great loss to Madison. He was an outstanding, wonderful supporter of the community."

Pleasant Rowland, founder of the American Girl Collection and Pleasant Co., and Frautschi's wife, said Mr. Miller was instrumental to the success of Concerts of the Square, which over its 20-year history has become a mainstay of Madison's cultural scene. Under Mr. Miller's leadership, The Evjue Foundation helped fund the event's first year.

"Its part of the fabric of the community now," said Rowland, who originally conceived the idea. "The kind of fabric Fred envisioned for the community."

Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who had frequent contact with Mr. Miller over the years, at civic functions as well as at The Capital Times office, said he embodied Madison's progressive tradition.

"Fred, more than anyone else, was the link back to Mr. Evjue," Soglin said. "What always struck me about Fred was when others were retired, he was as focused as ever on the political issues of the day and never wavered from his progressive roots."

Badger athlete:

Mr. Miller's physical condition always belied his age. He attributed much of that to his athleticism as a youth. A graduate of old Central High School, he was a star on the basketball team and went on to play varsity basketball at the University of Wisconsin.

As a freshman, he participated in the first basketball game ever played at the then brand-new UW Field House, lettering in the sport in 1931, 1932 and 1933. As a result, he was asked to participate in the ceremonies following the final game in the Field House when basketball moved to the new Kohl Center in 1998.

UW Athletic Director Pat Richter said Mr. Miller was a consistent supporter of UW athletics, both personally and with financial support for various programs through The Evjue Foundation.

"He was, of course, a great Badger," Richter said.

The University of Wisconsin was always special to him. Not only had he played varsity basketball, he went on to coach the freshman basketball team while he went to Law School in 1934. The year before, he had been selected to chair the UW Homecoming festivities, then the highlight of the university's social calendar.

But the school's academics were key as far as he was concerned. Like Mr. Evjue, he was enamored with the "Wisconsin Idea," that the university's boundaries were the state's and that its faculty should take part in governmental and civic affairs to benefit all Wisconsinites.

Mr. Miller became an ardent supporter of the university and was instrumental in helping it with substantial annual grants from The Evjue Foundation.

"Fred was just a wonderful citizen and a good friend of the university," said John Wiley, UW-Madison chancellor and a member of The Evjue Foundation board.

Among many examples of Mr. Miller's support of the university, Wiley said, was the establishment two years ago of the William T. Evjue Chair for the Wisconsin Idea, currently held by chemist Bassam Shakhashiri.

"He had a great life and he really influenced this town," said Andrew "Sandy" Wilcox, president of the University of Wisconsin Foundation, and another Evjue Foundation board member. "I've learned a lot from him about Madison and I consider him one of the first citizens of Madison."

Foundation builder:

The foundation, which derives its money from The Capital Times stock that William T. Evjue left in the charitable trust he established by his will, became Mr. Miller's pride and joy.

He worked overtime to make sure the foundation's assets were earning as much as possible so that more money could be contributed to the cultural, educational and civic causes directed by Mr. Evjue's will. Of the thousands of grants made by the foundation during Mr. Miller's tenure, the $3 million gift toward the construction of Monona Terrace was the one that gave him the most satisfaction.

The $3 million request came at a time when the foundation didn't have the assets it has today. But, Mr. Miller knew that nothing would have pleased the newspaper's founder more than the building of Monona Terrace, for which The Capital Times had campaigned for more than 50 years. He convinced the rest of the foundation board that it could make a $300,000 annual commitment for 10 years to give the project the jump-start it needed.

Several have credited that $3 million grant as the key in gaining both private and public support for the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building on Lake Monona.

Mr. Miller was born in Milwaukee. His dad, Roy, moved the family to Madison two years later. Although he had only an eighth-grade education, Roy Miller used his mechanical skills to eventually become superintendent of maintenance for all state buildings in Madison.

When Fred and his twin brother, Frank, finished high school in 1930, they were encouraged to go to college despite the Depression and hard financial times. Fred graduated with a political science degree in 1934 and then got his law degree in 1936.

Shortly after he and Vi Bagley married in 1939, Mr. Miller built a home on Arbor Drive, a stone's throw from the western shore of Lake Wingra. Mrs. Miller died in 1992 and Mr. Miller sold the home in 2000 and moved to the new Attic Angels facility on the far west side, where he lived until his death.

He was a member of the State Bar Association of Wisconsin, the UW's Elvehjem Art Museum Council, the University Club, Bascom Hill Society, the UW Foundation and the Madison Club.

His survivors include a niece, Nancy Gage, also a board member of The Capital Times Co. and a trustee of the Evjue Charitable Trust, and her husband, Allan Finney. A son and daughter of his late twin brother, Frank Miller, also survive him. They are Donald F. Miller of Mount Horeb and Marcia Miller Rigney of Apache Junction, Ariz.

Also surviving are his close friends Dr. Gordon and Marjorie Davenport, Dick and Jean McKenzie, Dick and Janet Murphy, Oscar and Gerry Mayer and Sally Jamieson, all of Madison.

There will be a private burial service. The Cress Funeral Home, 3610 Speedway Road, is in charge of arrangements.

Originally published as a news story on the front page of The Capital Times oon December 16, 2003.

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