Foundation to honor former “anonymous” philanthropist, Mildred Milliman

Mildred Milliman

Mildred Milliman was by no means ordinary.

She was fiercely independent, living in her own home until her death at age 100.

Her work ethic extended far beyond her retirement as a switchboard operator at age 65 – just the start of a new phase of her life that included rolling up her sleeves and building a new home.

A frugal woman, she made every dollar count, right down to what kind of car she drove – every car she ever owned was a stick shift so she could save money on gas.

And, she was a dedicated community philanthropist, giving generously, and often anonymously, to many causes. True to her character the scale of her generosity was not ordinary. There’s nothing ordinary about a $6 million gift.

Her decision to set up an endowed fund with the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation with $6 million is making a permanent difference now for more than 30 local and national charitable organizations, according to CRCF Executive Director Karen Niemic Buchheit.

Despite her great act of kindness, Ms. Milliman did not wish to be thanked or recognized publicly at the time.

Since its establishment in 2001, the Mildred Milliman Fund, which previously was named Anonymous Fund to protect her privacy, has distributed more than $1.9 million in gifts to the local and national charities named by Ms. Milliman, Ms. Buchheit said.

“The Community Foundation’s board of directors has wanted to thank Millie, one of our community’s most exceptional philanthropists, ever since she anonymously established a fund with the Community Foundation in 2001,” said Carol Stitt, Community Foundation board president. “Shortly before her death she gave us permission to recognize her generous donation publicly. That’s why I’m pleased to announce the Community Foundation will recognize Millie and her generous spirit at this year’s Friends of the Foundation Luncheon.”

The CRCF board recently voted to recognize Ms. Milliman’s lifetime generosity and exceptional philanthropic vision with its Friend of the Foundation award, which will be presented posthumously at the annual luncheon in July.

Ms. Milliman was born on July 12, 1910 in Portville, NY. She graduated from Portville schools. During World War II, she was employed at the Munitions Factory in Eldred, Pa.  For several years she worked at VanderHorst and she also worked as switchboard operator at Olean General Hospital for 23 years retiring on her 65th birthday in 1975.  She died October 12, 2010, at the age of 100 years, three months.

“She was a very bright and lovely person with a quick wit,” remembers her friend Karen Fohl, adding “She was also exceptionally industrious even in her senior years. In her late 80s she built the only thatched roof house in Olean.”

The story of Millie’s wealth is also extraordinary.

Her long-time friend Sue Kallenbach said Millie’s maternal uncle, Charles Soderstrom, was the original source of Millie’s financial holdings. Born in Sweden in 1875, Mr. Soderstrom immigrated to the Olean area with his family in the 1880s. A cornet player and founding member of the Olean Brass Band, he moved to Seattle, Wash., and built a name for himself as an expert delivery serviceman.

His skill in managing and maintaining delivery fleets attracted the attention of the partners of the fledgling Merchants Parcel Delivery, and they convinced Mr. Soderstrom to purchase $10,000 in MPD stock and become a partner. His attention to detail, right down to the color of the company’s delivery vehicles, brown, helped it grow into one of today’s best known delivery companies – United Parcel Service.

Ms. Kallenbach said Millie held some of the original shares her uncle purchased for more than 50 years before making the first of her many charitable contributions.

“After a very full life exceeding 100 years she was most fulfilled by knowing that she had helped so many people and animals,” Ms. Fohl said. “This brought her great happiness and through her immense generosity and kindness literally hundreds of thousands of lives have been impacted positively. Now that is a legacy to be proud of.”

“There was recently an article in Forbes magazine noting a study about the link between money and happiness,” said Ms. Fohl, who as vice president for institutional advancement at Olean General Hospital, knows much about philanthropy herself.  “The study revealed that indeed the greatest happiness associated with someone having money is the satisfaction and fulfillment they experienced from giving it away to worthy causes. Millie’s life is a testament to that.

“In our last days with Millie we were able to recount all that she had done to make the world a better place – noting how she literally saved Olean General Hospital by providing a $10 million gift during one of its most desperate times as well as providing critical equipment and services to help patients over the years. These gifts were simply transformational,” Ms. Fohl said.

According to Ms. Fohl, Millie was dedicated to helping OGH provide exceptional care to the residents of the Southern Tier as this was her private way of helping everyone in her community. One of her proudest moments was the naming of the Olean General Hospital Mildred Milliman Radiation Medicine Center, an affiliate of Roswell Park Cancer Institute which has enabled patients in our community to receive the same level of care as they would receive at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo without the need to travel.

The Olean General Hospital is one of the lead beneficiaries of the Mildred Milliman Fund today, assuring that her passion for that organization lives on.

“The Community Foundation is extremely pleased that Millie chose it to carry on her legacy,” said Ms. Buchheit.

“Each year when we send out the grants from her fund the recipients express their appreciation,” said Ms. Buchheit. “They regret they cannot thank her in person, but they love sharing the wonderful outcomes her gifts make possible and will continue to make possible.”

The Mildred Milliman Fund’s annual beneficiaries also include the Cattaraugus County SPCA, Town of Olean Fire Department, Allegany County SPCA, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the Foundation’s Beautification Fund, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Alzheimer’s Association, American Cancer Society, American Foundation for the Blind, American Heart Association, American Kidney Fund, American Lung Association, American SPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, Blinded Veterans Association, Camp Good Days & Special Times, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Easter Seals, Eastern Paralyzed Veterans, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, HOPE Foundation, Humane Society of U.S., International Fund for Animal Welfare, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Anti-Vivisection Society, National Epilepsy Foundation, National MS Society, National Wildlife Federation, Paralyzed Veterans of America, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and World Wildlife Foundation.

Established in 1995, The Community Foundation is growing good by connecting donors to the causes they care about most in our region. Grants from the foundation support many areas including education, scholarships, health care, the arts, community development, human service and youth development. To learn more, call, email or visit us online at www.cattfoundation.org