Agricultural & Applied Economics alum Dr. Robert H. Miller of Alexandria, Virginia (MS ’59, PhD ’67) visited Madison for the inaugural AAE Scholars & Sponsors Lunch on April 15, 2015. Organized to honor the students receiving scholarships and the donors who established them, the event brought together 80 AAE supporters on the first warm day of spring. The day of the lunch, Miller announced his gift of $500,000 to establish the Henry C. Taylor Professorship. Miller’s incredible gift will receive a “Morgridge Match,” which will double its value to $1,000,000. In fall 2014, John and Tashia Morgridge promised $100 million to match new gifts toward professorships at UW-Madison. Their donation is the largest-ever gift by a single donor to the university. Miller’s gift is the first gift to Agricultural & Applied Economics to endow a named professorship.
Miller grew up on a Rock County dairy farm. In 1943, his family bought a 340-acre farm on the prairie southeast of Janesville. Miller graduated with honors in Agricultural Education at UW-Madison. He later entered what was then called the Agricultural Economics Department and worked with his major professor, Truman Graf, in dairy economics for both his Master’s and doctorate degrees. Miller’s research led to a 33-year career at the USDA in Washington, D.C., where he began as an agricultural economist in the dairy section and eventually became Director of the Tobacco & Peanuts Analysis Division.
Miller fondly remembers the programs of the Taylor-Hibbard Club with various well-known speakers, his MS and PhD fieldwork at Wisconsin dairy firms, and the enthusiasm of several AAE professors in teaching, research and extension. He has maintained close ties with the UW-Madison Alumni Association since his time at the university and has been a faithful donor to AAE since 1983. Two events prompted Miller and his wife Vivian to give this significant gift now: they recently sold their Rock County farm; at the same time, they learned of the Morgridge matching gift.
Of his inspiration to name the gift after Henry C. Taylor, Miller says, “One of Dr. Taylor’s accomplishments as first chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics at the USDA was to hold the first Agricultural Outlook Conference (1922) which has continued annually to this day; this was the area I worked in for much of my USDA career.” After Miller came to USDA, he met Taylor a few times at his home in Maryland. He recalls: “When our Taylor-Hibbard Club (Washington, DC) came to Dr. Taylor’s home, called ‘Indian-Queen-on-the-Potomac’, for enjoyable weekend afternoons in 1963 and 1964, Dr. Taylor was about 90 years of age and was still able to summarize many of the key initiatives during his tenure as chief, Bureau of Economics, USDA.”
Dr. Miller has simple yet ambitious aspirations for the Henry C. Taylor Professorship: “I hope the proceeds from the fund will further AAE’s teaching, research, and extension to help maintain the department among the leading agricultural and applied economics departments in the country.”
Henry C. Taylor, who has been called “the father of agricultural economics,” was the first professor of agricultural economics in the United States, the author of the first American textbook on agricultural economics, and the founder and first Chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Taylor established the Department of Agricultural Economics in 1909. Oris V. Wells assessed that “[Taylor and his colleagues] gave to agricultural economics a scientific approach which has been one of the most effective elements in the development and almost complete reorientation of general economic theory and practice which has taken place since the end of World War I.”
Until June 8, 2015, any additional gift to the Henry C. Taylor Professorship fund will be doubled by the Morgridge Match. This is an inspiring moment for the university and for the department, when donors have redoubled their efforts to support teaching and research.