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Area resident gives ‘historic’ gift to UWRF

September 17, 2009

A former newspaperman donated a large sum of money this August to be used to establish endowed scholarships for River Falls students, with preference given to students from Hudson and North Hudson.

Willis Harry Miller, who died on Nov. 16, 2008, at age 89, left $1,068,552 to UW-River Falls, the largest donation in University history.

“The Willis Miller gift is the largest gift to UWRF in a 135 year history,” Chancellor Dean Van Galen said. “More significantly this will provide scholarships to hundreds of UWRF students in coming years…one hundred years from now students will still be benefiting.”

The money that Miller donated will go towards an endowment scholarship fund. The money will be invested and the interest earned from the endowment will be used to fund scholarships.

“The current spending policy is 4%, which means about $40,000 will go towards scholarships on an annual basis,” Dan McGinty, interim executive director of the Office of University Advancement, said. “However, that figure is ever changing.”

The scholarship criteria will be preference given to students from the greater Hudson area community.

“A committee of senior leaders of this institution will form to possibly add to the existing criteria,” McGinty said.

Miller, former publisher of the Hudson Star-Observer, was a well-known man in the St. Croix Valley. He was a member of UWRF Foundation Board of Directors and the now-defunct University Press Committee.

Miller was a founder of the St. Croix County Historical Society and was known for his Hudson Biographical Index, a card catalog commonly used in genealogical research chronicling the city’s residents. He was elected to the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of fame in 2004, and a street in Hudson is named after him.

Born Nov. 28, 1918, in Iowa City, Miller was raised in Hudson. In the summer of 1939, Miller took a summer class at UWRF while on break from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. He worked for the Norwegian-American Historical Association and was a member of the famed choir at the college. He graduated from St. Olaf College in 1940.

After College, Miller worked for the Hudson Star-Observer and as a freelance reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel. He was well known for his column, “Along Our Street,” that ran for 40 years in the paper.
He eventually became publisher and editor of the Hudson Star-Observer when he and a group of local investors purchased the newspaper in 1958 from Yvette Ward.

After selling the paper in the 1980s, he retired but continued to work part-time at the paper until his death. He wrote a weekly column titled “Historic Hudson.”

Miller also donated several historical documents, including personal diaries and business papers, to the River Falls Area Research Center and UWRF Archives, state historical societies and the Library of Congress.

His other estate gifts included the Education Foundation of Hudson, Hudson Area Library Foundation, St. Olaf College, the Wisconsin Historical Society, St. Croix County Historical Society, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Hudson Hospital Health Foundation, Christian Community Home and the Phipps Center for the Arts, and numerous community arts and historical organizations.

“This is definitely a historic gift to us,” McGinty said. “As an institution we will be forever grateful.”