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Don '54 and Alyce Milks

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Team Philanthropy
Spring 2014

We are all philanthropists.

You don’t need to be wealthy to be a philanthropist, but you do need to define your goals and determine the extent of your interests and abilities to maximize the impact of your giving. And then add the secret ingredient: time.  Don ’54 and Alyce Milks are philanthropists. Theirs is a team effort that has evolved over almost 60 years.

Don graduated from Clarkson with his Civil Engineering degree in 1954 and took a position with American Bridge.  He was drafted in 1955 and assigned to the US Army Ordnance Corps. After completing active military duty he enrolled at the University of Arizona in 1957 where he also served as a graduate teaching assistant and later as an instructor teaching courses in engineering mechanics and structural analysis. 

Don met Alyce Berguson in high school in Elmira, New York.  Although they attended different schools their families worshipped at the same church.  It wasn’t until 1953 that Don first asked Alyce to go to a movie.  One particular youth discussion at church was "Should wives work after they are married?"  Don argued the negative side while Alyce was on the positive side. Ironically, nearly ten years later Alyce, while working at Sears, was financially supporting Don's graduate program endeavors.  Alyce graduated from Oneonta State Teachers College in 1956.  They married in 1958.  Don earned a Master of Science in 1964 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1966.  In 1965 Don joined the faculty of Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio where he served until his retirement in 2000 including nearly 20 years as civil engineering chairman.  Don and Alyce have two sons, both engineers, one electrical and the other mechanical They also have four grandchildren.

Everyone’s philanthropy is different, but a common first step is to create a plan, maybe including a mission statement. For Don and Alyce, that revolved around education. “Providing education is an important part of our lives and we see philanthropy as a means to extend and broaden our goals,” says Don. “Education at all levels is critical to society. Our gifts are targeted to certain charities that meet our criteria, including lifelong learning, honing life skills in a community setting, mentoring in a nurturing environment, and offering practical, hands-on experience.”

From there, Don and Alyce have devised a formula for their annual giving and selected a handful of charities to receive a substantial portion each year. "There are many worthwhile charities and it is difficult to narrow the charities to a small group that corresponds to our interest," says Don. “We’ve determined the portion of our income that will go to charity each year,” says Don, “and we have selected four charities that focus on different aspects of education.”

Then, Don and Alyce determine how their gifts will be used. “Some of our gifts are restricted and some are for unrestricted use. It depends on the needs of each charity and how they can best use our gifts.” says Don. “By using gift-with-income plans like trusts and annuities to generate tax deductions and income, we can also maximize our lifetime giving and preserve the bulk of our estate for children and grandchildren.” And finally, Don and Alyce include their children and grandchildren to create a family legacy. “Education is also passing on family values to future generations, and philanthropy creates a family accomplishment for children and grandchildren to explore and expand. It’s giving back, and giving forward,” says Don.

“Philanthropy is an achievement and a legacy of our lives, no matter what the wealth,” says Don. “And time is what makes it possible. By extending our plan over many years, we have achieved goals and created a legacy larger than we thought possible. Our philanthropy deserves as much attention and planning as we give to careers, family and retirement. As we maximize the impact of our gifts we set an example and teach future generations.  Philanthropy is a lifelong journey that returns immense satisfaction as we make a difference in our lives and the lives of others.”

What are the mechanics of Don and Alyce’s giving?
Don and Alyce Milks support four charities that reflect their values and educational goals:

  • The Chautauqua Institution offers an enriched atmosphere each summer for lifelong learning. Don and Alyce make annual gifts to the institution’s pooled life income fund. The fund generates an income tax deduction, a modest level of income and increases the future value of their gift.
  • The Hurlbut Memorial Community Church on the Chautauqua grounds supports the community year-round in an atmosphere of fellowship and service. Don and Alyce’s unrestricted gifts help the church fulfill its mission today. This generates the largest income tax deduction while making the greatest immediate impact.
  • Ohio Northern University (ONU) is an independent university combining nationally ranked programs in arts, sciences, business, engineering, pharmacy and law. Don and Alyce have a charitable trust at ONU. Annual gifts to the trust generate an income tax deduction and provide for increasing income each year as the value of their gift grows.
  • Don and Alyce create charitable gift annuities at Clarkson University each year. Along with an income tax deduction, the annuities generate an increasing stream of tax-free income. Don and Alyce are also creating a family legacy at Clarkson. The remainders from their annuities will someday create the Milks Family Endowment for SPEED.

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(rev. 4/2014)