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Published: Tuesday, August 26, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Hazel Miller's generosity lives on

  • Debbie McFall and her granddaughter Kaia, 22 months, dance to the music of Harmonica Pocket during a July concert at Hazel Miller Plaza in Edmonds.

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Debbie McFall and her granddaughter Kaia, 22 months, dance to the music of Harmonica Pocket during a July concert at Hazel Miller Plaza in Edmonds.

  • Erin Zackey (center) dances with Hazel Zackey (left), 6, and Freya Swanson, 5, during a July concert at Hazel Miller Plaza in Edmonds.

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Erin Zackey (center) dances with Hazel Zackey (left), 6, and Freya Swanson, 5, during a July concert at Hazel Miller Plaza in Edmonds.

  • Nala Walla of the band Harmonica Pocket dances with a hula hoop during a July concert at Hazel Miller Plaza in Edmonds.

    Genna Martin / The Herald

    Nala Walla of the band Harmonica Pocket dances with a hula hoop during a July concert at Hazel Miller Plaza in Edmonds.

  • Hazel and Morris Miller

    Hazel and Morris Miller

South Snohomish County has much to be thankful for, and much of that has come from the forward-looking generosity of the late Hazel Miller.
Summer concerts and Fourth of July fireworks in Edmonds, a writing program at Scriber Lake High School, Shakespeare plays in a Lynnwood park, CPR training through the American Red Cross, and back-to-school basics grants for Edmonds School District teachers are just some of the many programs funded recently by the Hazel Miller Foundation.
Miller, a longtime Edmonds resident, was 93 when she died in 2009. A native of Williston, North Dakota, she did not grow up with wealth. Her fortune came through marriage, and working with her husband, Morris Miller, in business.
Morris Miller, who preceded her in death, had inherited the Seattle Quilt Company from his father. The Seattle business, on First Avenue S., was started as Miller's Dry Goods in 1915. The Millers sold it and moved to Edmonds in the 1970s. Hazel Miller had no children.
“Hazel didn't know what to do with her money — to a point of maybe throwing a dart at the telephone book to give it to people,” said Dick Ellis, who is on the seven-member Hazel Miller Foundation board of directors.
A friend of the couple who knew Hazel Miller for 60 years, Ellis said it was with the help of Edmonds attorney Leigh Bennett that the Hazel Miller Foundation was established.
“She really, really took to that,” Ellis said. “Living in Edmonds, she really enjoyed the community. That's where she wanted most of the help to go, Edmonds and south Snohomish County.”
The Hazel Miller Foundation was established in 2010 with a $12 million endowment. “It's a pretty sizable amount, and it's going to grow,” Bennett said.
Miller set up the nonprofit to be much like the Hubbard Family Foundation, a charitable foundation established in the 1980s to enhance the quality of life in Edmonds and south Snohomish County. “That was the model Hazel really liked, with a board of seven to help ultimately determine how the money is to be distributed every year,” he said.
Approximately $500,000 is distributed each year in Hazel Miller Foundation grants, with the money supporting nonprofit organizations in five areas: education and youth, the alleviation of poverty and hunger, civic and community services and amenities, environment, and culture and the arts. Bennett said capital projects are a sixth area of emphasis.
“We try to have a balanced effect on our community,” he said. “We're always looking at the most impact, the greatest amount of need.”
Board members include a school board member, a former school board member, and people with ties to parks and community volunteerism, Ellis and Bennett said.
The foundation board's chairwoman is Renee McCrae, recreation manager for Edmonds Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services. On June 12, 2012, the Hazel Miller Plaza was dedicated as a small park at Fifth Avenue S. and Maple Street in downtown Edmonds. This summer, the plaza was the venue for concerts sponsored by the Edmonds Arts Commission and funded by the Hazel Miller Foundation.
“It's an absolutely beautiful gathering place in downtown Edmonds,” McCrae said.
Education was close to Miller's heart, Bennett said, and Edmonds School Board member Diana White is on the foundation board. The foundation funds $30,000 in scholarships each year, and a school district panel helps identify areas of greatest need, Bennett said.
“She really enjoyed helping people. That's probably why the biggest percentage of our help goes out toward kids,” Ellis said.
With all she gave to the Edmonds area, Miller also made significant gifts to Seattle Children's Hospital, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Millionair Club Charity that helps provide jobs to needy people in Seattle, and other charities.
“She had a very good life, and she wanted to give back,” Bennett said. “Hazel was so generous to do this. And boy, it's going to help a zillion people.”
Learn more
The Hazel Miller Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation that awards about $500,000 in grants each year to charities and other nonprofit organizations in Edmonds and south Snohomish County. Information: www.hazelmillerfoundation.org or 206-667-0300.
Coming soon
This story is part of Snohomish County Gives, a special section highlighting the spirit of philanthropy in the county. Look for more stories on HeraldNet throughout the week and the full section in the print edition of The Herald on Sunday, Aug. 31.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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