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Long-time MSU professor, administrator, benefactor Milton Muelder dies

We have lost a mentor, a role model and a friend

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Milton Muelder, who for more than 55 years served Michigan State University as a faculty member, administrator and benefactor whose gifts benefited the arts, science and athletics, died Thursday, May 6. He was 101.

“Over the next several days, students will graduate from a Michigan State University shaped in so many ways by Milt Muelder,” said MSU President Lou Anna K Simon. “They fittingly will represent his legacy. We often over-use words like ‘legend’ and ‘icon,’ but in Milt’s case they are appropriate – even understatements – at his MSU.

“Milt was an engaged renaissance scholar, a generous philanthropist and an academic visionary. He was a witness to and central participant in a dramatic, indeed historic, transformation of this university. His zest for learning, his intellectual curiosity and his love for MSU were as evident as a centenarian as they were as a young faculty member. We have lost a mentor, a role model and a friend.”

Muelder’s MSU career began in 1935 when the joined the faculty as an instructor of history and political science.

During his years of service to MSU, Muelder held numerous positions, including chairperson of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration (1949-52), dean of the College of Science and Arts (1952-59), and was MSU’s first vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School (1959-76).

He also served as director of the MSU Foundation from 1974-76.

Muelder will be remembered for his generosity to his university. Since retiring in 1976, Muelder contributed more than $1 million to MSU, supporting numerous departments and programs throughout the university.

Among the units he contributed to were the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, MSU College of Music, College of Arts and Letters, the Horticulture Gardens, and the SOuthern Astrophysical Research, or SOAR, telescope.

Many of his gifts reflected the love for art, gardening and music that he shared with his wife, Kathleen D. Muelder, who passed away in 1995. Muelder also designated a portion of his donations to benefit graduate assistantships in the Department of History in order to promote the knowledge and understanding of the histories of other cultures.

The Summer Carillon Series, named in his honor, was established through a donation from Muelder. He also was the recipient of the first Joanne McPherson Award for his contributions to MSU Safe Place, the nation’s campus-affiliated shelter for victims of domestic violence.

An avid swimmer, even as he was well into his 90s, Muelder established the Muelder Learn-to-Swim Endowment that allowed dependent children of MSU students to attend the program free-of-charge.

Muelder is also credited with recommending to then MSU President John Hannah the establishment of an Office of International Studies and Programs. He also worked to secure the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at MSU, establish the Institute of Water Research and the Kellogg Biological Station at Gull Lake.

As a commissioned naval officer during World War II, Muelder assisted the Army with his administrative expertise and was awarded the Legion of Merit.

Muelder earned a bachelor of arts degree from Knox College, a master of arts degree in International Administration from Columbia University, and a doctorate from the University of Michigan in European History and German Literature. He is survived by his second wife Beth Schwartz.