Women’s History Month 2008 begins on a wistful note in Columbus with the news of Xenia Miller’s passing February 19 th. Born in 1917, Miller was a major philanthropist whose life story dovetailed with many of that city’s significant figures, trends and landmarks. A Morgantown native, Xenia Ruth Simons came to Columbus as a child, graduating from Columbus High School and Indiana Business College, and eventually marrying J. Irwin Miller in 1943.
The Yale- and Oxford-trained businessman whose great-uncle had founded Cummins Engine grew the enterprise into a global leader in diesel manufacture, and created a foundation that stimulated a mid-century architectural renaissance in Columbus. While raising five children, Xenia and Irwin Miller also nurtured their hometown’s arts and architecture, parks and visitors’ facilities, schools and churches. Having funded, with her husband, the construction of the Commons in 1973, Xenia provided the support for the Indianapolis Museum of Art-Columbus Gallery that opened inside that downtown complex in 1993.
The Millers’ efforts were also humanitarian. In 1955, they helped to found the North Christian Church in Columbus, on the principles of equality and inclusion. Xenia and her husband were also instrumental in organizing the civil rights march on Washington in 1963, and funding the drive to register black voters in the South. As founders and successive presidents of the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation, the Millers supported the disadvantaged, by promoting child welfare, social justice and community development.
Xenia Miller had also directed Irwin Management Co. Inc., and Tipton Lakes Co. Inc., and was a trustee at large of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. She was recognized as Sagamore of the Wabash by two governors, and awarded honorary doctorates from Butler, St. Mary-of-the-Woods, MacMurray College and Christian Theological Seminary.
Ironically, the week of her death saw the demolition of the Columbus Commons.