Wendy and Glen Miller recently made a $1.25 million commitment through the Glen and Wendy Miller Family Foundation to support the Glen & Wendy Miller Alzheimer’s Family Support Program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Their gift will directly support the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC) through its expansion of education and support programs for individuals and families living with neurocognitive diseases, as well as the CNADC’s increased collaboration with community-based organizations serving this community. The Millers’ gift also will continue their past support of The Buddy Program, establish the Miller Social Work Fellowship Program, and help to develop an online education and support program.
“We hope that by focusing our philanthropy on not only the patients, but the caregivers and families, we will touch more people,” said Glen.
The Millers have been giving to the CNADC since 2008, but their involvement goes back nearly 30 years. After Wendy’s mother, Marcy Raftenberg, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 70, Wendy became one of her primary caregivers alongside her father, Mike Raftenberg. For the next 14 years until her passing, Wendy struggled alongside her parents to deal with her mother’s worsening dementia.
“Alzheimer’s is a disease that is beyond words,” said Wendy. Glen continued, “We can’t let our memory of Marcy be darkness. We want to try and turn it into something good.”
Wendy eventually sought help through the Alzheimer’s Association and their Family and Caregivers Support Group. It was here that Wendy met Darby J. Morhardt, PhD, who now serves as research associate professor at the CNADC. In honor of her parents, Wendy created the Family Caregiver Conference in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association. Through the Association, Wendy was connected with Dr. Morhardt who served as a member of its governing board. The Family Caregiver Conference tripled in size over the course of a few years and included the largest resource fair of its kind at that time. After the final conference was held in 2008, Wendy got more and more involved with the CNADC.
“What a privilege it has been to work with Wendy over these many years. I am immensely grateful to have her support and that of the entire Miller family,” said Dr. Morhardt. “Their continued commitment with this extraordinary gift will not only significantly impact quality of life for individuals with neurocognitive diseases and caregiving families, but also will provide essential experiential learning for social workers and future doctors. What a meaningful impact this will ultimately have on the delivery of care for this vulnerable population.”
Partnering with the CNADC and Beyond
The Buddy Program, led by Dr. Morhardt, is a CNADC program that is very dear to the Miller family. In fact, the Millers provided some of the first major philanthropic support for the program in 2009. Founded in 1997, The Buddy Program is a unique, experiential learning program that addresses a lack of understanding of and appreciation for dementia-related healthcare issues in medical student education. It offers mentorship opportunities for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. The Buddy Program, which pairs first-year medical students with patients, has gained national recognition and has been successfully replicated at nine medical schools beyond Feinberg.
“I have watched The Buddy Program grow through Darby’s efforts. We think it’s wonderful, and have the utmost respect for her efforts, innovation, and passion,” said Wendy. “I wish The Buddy Program had been around when my mother was here.”
Thanks to the Millers’ generosity, the CNADC also will be able to provide opportunities for patients and families to meet with social workers for assessments and linkages to resources, education, and support. This includes three monthly support groups already offered by the CNADC. With philanthropic aid in recruiting new multidisciplinary staff members, the CNADC will be able to provide more patients and families with individualized psychosocial support.
“Under the leadership of Darby Morhardt, the CNADC has maintained a strong focus on the development of innovative interventions that enrich the quality of life for our patients and caregivers. The Buddy Program is the crown jewel of this enterprise,” said M. Marsel Mesulam, MD, the Ruth Dunbar Davee Professor of Neuroscience and director of the CNADC. “Wendy and Glen Miller have played a major role in the development of this program. Their new gift will ensure that The Buddy Program reaches new levels of excellence and recognition.”
In addition to their commitment to programs within the CNADC, the Millers are passionate about food allergy research. In November 2014, they made a $1.25 million gift to establish the Miller Family Severity Spectrum in Food Allergy Fund at the medical school.
Fifty-Six Years Together
Wendy and Glen Miller have known each other since they were 14 years old. They attended grammar and high school together in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, and lived three blocks apart. Glen mowed Wendy’s family’s lawn for years. After they became a couple in high school, friends dubbed them “Glendy.”
Glen recalls the year Wendy went away to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison while he stayed in Chicago for school: “I remember there was a phone booth at the intersection of Howard and California, near my house,” he said. “I saved all of my quarters to call Wendy from that phone every chance I got—even in the dead of winter.”
The two were married in 1967 and have built their family together in Deerfield, Illinois. All three of the Miller children are alumni of Northwestern University, and Glen taught for 15 years at the Kellogg School of Management as an adjunct professor. They have six grandchildren.