Michigan State University (MSU) alumnus Leighton Miller, of Pine Beach, New Jersey, recently visited MSU for the first time in over 50 years. His last time on campus was for his graduation from the MSU Business College.
“When I went back there last year for the first time since 1962 I was just amazed at the transformation,” Leighton Miller said. “It sure has changed over the years.”
He was so impressed that he and his wife, Peggy, documented a $900,000 bequest – a future gift to create The Leighton and Peggy Miller Forestry Scholarship. Once the gift is received, this new endowed scholarship will support MSU Department of Forestry graduate students.
“My wife and I thought it would be very good if we both donated to our alma maters,” Leighton said.
Peggy added, “If we did have children, after our tour of the campus and learning all about the programs that you have, we definitely would have had our children attend Michigan State University because I just think it's phenomenal. I was so impressed by all of the programs and everything else is going on. And I have to add, it is a beautiful, beautiful campus. Leighton and I hope to be able to give the university even more when we pass on."
Although Leighton Miller grew up in New Jersey, he recalls visiting his grandparents and relatives in Michigan frequently during the summertime. It was during these summers spent in Michigan that he developed a special connection to the state, and eventually, to MSU.
“It all started with my parents. They were born and raised in Michigan. They moved to the east coast in 1930 and all the rest of my relatives remained in Michigan. I spent most of my summers growing up in Michigan with them,” Miller explained. “My father went to the University of Michigan, but my sister and brother-in-law went to Michigan State, and when Michigan State accepted me, I decided to go there as well – which was a good choice!”
“I’m grateful for very fantastic experiences at school. I just loved it and I didn’t even mind the winters! We still keep in touch with many of the people I went to college with,” he said.
After graduating with a business degree in marketing from MSU in 1962, Leighton went into retailing with the Army Air Force Exchange Service out of New York City. From there he moved to Dow Jones where he was responsible for market research for a few years. Eventually, he built a career as a state park ranger in the New Jersey park service. Through this career, he found a love and devotion for nature and the environment.
“I got more into the environment than I had previously been – although I had always been one to worry about recycling,” Miller said.
When they decided to both donate to their alma maters, Leighton and Peggy wanted to be sure to make a gift with the most impact for their respective universities. Being one concerned about the environment, Leighton decided to direct his gift to his area of passion – forestry and natural resources.
“It all stems from my care for the environment and work over the years. It just seemed like the most impact for the money,” Leighton said. “It's a very, very strong feeling I have to take care of the planet. It's hard to describe until you work with people who don’t appreciate what they have.”
Through the MSU Department of Forestry students discover their role in sustaining forests and the ecosystem services they provide, including conservation of biodiversity, wood, clean water and global climate stabilization.
“By establishing this endowed scholarship in forestry, the Millers are empowering future Spartans and future generations of Spartans to understand and protect our natural environment and use natural resources sustainably,” said Richard Kobe, MSU Department of Forestry chair.
Forestry students learn to be leaders through multi-disciplinary coursework, field studies, cutting-edge technology and mentorship from respected faculty in one of the longest-standing Forestry programs in the United States.
“We hope that the scholarship will maintain and increase the number of students in the forestry program who might otherwise go elsewhere. We hope it will attract students to Michigan State and keep them there,” Leighton said.
“My wife and I would like graduate students to create a program for the elementary schools that focuses on preservation of the environment. It’s at this young age that students need to be educated on taking care of our natural resources for them, and the world.
“When you think about it, everything about forestry and natural resources is crucial to life on the planet,” Leighton said.
For more information on gift planning or endowments, contact CANR External Relations.