MY WASHINGTON • Winter 2002
I. E. Millstone, B.S. '27
 

As Washington University prepares to commemorate the 150th anniversary of its founding in February 1853, I. E. Millstone observes his own milestone in January—his 96th birthday. For him, nearly two-thirds of the University's history is personal recollection.

At last May's Reunion celebration, I. E. Millstone, representing the 75th Reunion Class of 1927, was chosen to lead the procession of returning alumni in the Great Bear Parade at the Reunion Gala. Those 75 years since his graduation represent only a portion of his lifelong connection with Washington University. He recalls that his father, although not a graduate, took engineering classes at the old downtown campus before the University moved to its new Hilltop Campus after the World's Fair; an engineering graduate, Millstone himself is still active on the University's Board of Trustees as a Life Trustee. By his reckoning, he has witnessed most of the University's progress and achievements during the 20th century and into the 21st.

His energy, attitude, and ongoing community involvement belie the fact that he will soon celebrate his 96th birthday. He remains curious and eager to learn more about everything and everyone he encounters. A man of many accomplishments and contributions, an innovator and visionary, his 95th birthday was marked by a special celebration hosted by the Missouri Historical Society. The society's director, Robert R. Archibald, says, "For me I. E. Millstone embodies the great theologian Reinold Niebuhr's observation that 'Anything worth doing takes more than one generation, therefore there must be hope.'" Archibald said that Millstone is one who will make a difference in the lives of those he will never know because he has used his allotted time to make this world a better place for them to inherit.

Few sites in the St. Louis area have not seen the impact of his work and his involvement. A pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete, he founded Millstone Construction, Inc., at age 22. The company and the work it has done over the years are known far and wide, from the nation's first public-housing complex in Florida to St. Louis landmarks such as Busch Stadium and the Milles Fountain, from office towers and shopping malls to highways and bridges, from the United States to Israel.

His energy, attitude, and ongoing community involvement belie the fact that he will soon celebrate his 96th birthday. He remains curious and eager to learn more about everything and everyone he encounters.

I. E., as he is known throughout the community, still goes to his office at K & M Investors in Clayton every day. You can't say he's retired, or even semiretired—his work ethic and active participation in various community organizations make such adjectives meaningless. The word "retired," however, does pop up on his résumé, which lists him as past president (retired) of Millstone Construction, Inc., and past chairman (retired), Millstone Bangert Construction Co. But he continues as president of K & M Investors and president of the Millstone Charitable Foundation, founded in 1955.

Young people who were part of the first generation of American-born sons and daughters of immigrant Jews, as Millstone was, were coming of college age in the years just before and after World War I. Other leading universities of the time did not admit or had very small quotas for Jewish students. "What happened," Millstone says, "was that Washington University educated a whole generation of Jewish boys and girls from the St. Louis area." Many of Millstone's contemporaries and those who followed went on to become great successes in business and the professions; their names are familiar to St. Louisans: Sachs, Siteman, Lopata, Senturia, Fox. Dr. Abram Sachar, the founding president of Brandeis University, was a schoolmate of Millstone's.

Grateful for the chance Washington University gave them, many of this generation have repaid the University several times over for their education by donating buildings, endowing faculty chairs, providing scholarships, and serving on the faculty or the Board of Trustees. Their loyalty and their philanthropy were born of the opportunities that Washington University provided them.

"They could live at home, ride the streetcar to school, and still work evenings and weekends, often in their parents' stores, to earn the money for tuition," Millstone says. He earned his tuition, then $200 a year, by working as a lifeguard at Fairgrounds Park pool in the summers for $90 a month. "Today, I don't think a student would be able to make anywhere near enough working in the summertime at any kind of job to pay tuition of $25,000."

That realistic perception perhaps explains why Millstone has become such an enthusiastic supporter of scholarships in Arts & Sciences and the schools of Engineering & Applied Science, Architecture, and Social Work. More than 60 students each year benefit from his generosity. He recognizes the importance for today's students of good educational opportunities, and he values his relationships with the generations that have followed his own. "They are the future," he says, "and through and with them I can continue my own efforts to make this an even better community for others who will live here."

The University has felt the impact of his philanthropy and his company's service in other ways. The Athletic Complex's Millstone Pool is one of three in the region that bears the former championship swimmer's name. Millstone Plaza, Millstone Lounge, and the Millstone Chair in Environmental Engineering recognize his support. His company built Sever Hall in the School of Engineering and residence halls and the Wohl Center in the South 40. In the 1940s, he talked Chancellor Arthur Holly Compton out of using a Quonset hut to house student activities. "We can do better," he said. In its place, he built a temporary building of concrete block for that purpose at no cost to the University. He has been an adviser and counselor to several Washington University chancellors. He has known all of them from the seventh chancellor, Herbert S. Hadley, to the 14th, Mark S. Wrighton.

A modest man who does not seek recognition for himself, he has nevertheless been showered with honors by educational institutions, the Jewish community, and professional and community organizations. Washington University has honored him with engineering and architecture alumni awards, the Robert S. Brookings Award, the William Greenleaf Eliot Society Search Award, a University Alumni Citation, and an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. He was also inducted into the University's Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

William H. Danforth, chancellor emeritus and vice chairman of the Board of Trustees, sums up Millstone's influence: "I. E. Millstone understands his fellow humans, our weaknesses as well as our strengths, our foibles as well as our accomplishments, but that realism, which can lead others to cynicism, never undermines his hope or dims his almost boyish idealism. The benefits to Washington University, to the Jewish community, to his city, to his country, and to Israel have flown and continue to flow almost naturally from the vision, wisdom, character, and abilities of this remarkable man."

—John W. Hansford