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PLAY >> Judge B. Pennie Millender is a member of the "Dynamic TEN" 36th District Court Judges

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The Millender Family History

Robert Lee Millender, Sr. and Jeanette Mae Louise Bowen Millender were both born in the South, but moved to Michigan at an early age.  Bob, born in 1916 in Chicora, Mississippi, came to Detroit at the age of 5 after his father found work at Ford Motor Company.  Louise was born in Winterville, Georgia in 1920 and at the age of 1, moved to Inkster, Michigan with her family.  In addition, both attended Detroit Public Schools and were graduates of Northwestern High School.

Although the early lives of Bob and Louise Millender had some parallels, they were forever intertwined one evening in 1937 at the Graystone Ballroom.  Upon meeting Louise, Bob told her that she was the prettiest woman he had ever seen and if she could cook anything chocolate, he would marry her.  For the next four years, she baked him a homemade chocolate cake every month and they were married in 1941, just hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Bob had followed his father and brothers to Ford Motor Company after graduation from high school, but during his courtship of Louise, left Ford to work at the post office and attend night school.  However, his education was interrupted by the start of World War II.  Bob joined the Army, attaining the rank of Warrant Officer by the conclusion of his military service.  In 1946, he returned to Detroit and resumed his work at the post office.  Bob also returned to night school and in 1952, completed his law degree.  While completing his education, Bob and Louise also started a family, with the births of Robert, Jr., Patricia and Beatrice (Pennie).

For the ten years following his graduation from law school, Bob worked for the State of Michigan’s Workman’s Compensation Department.  In 1962, he joined the law firm that eventually became Goodman, Eden, Millender and Bedrosian, beginning an extremely successful practice.  However, the comfort and security that came with the practice was soon joined by the challenge and uncertainty of effecting political change.

In 1964, the United States Supreme Court ordered the states to redraw district lines to ensure fair representation in Congress, which provided the rare opportunity for immediate change.  Along with George Crockett, Bob worked to find the appropriate boundaries and legal grounds for a new district that would provide another voice in Congress for Detroit’s black citizens.  The impact of the Supreme Court decision and subsequent re-districting effort was felt almost instantaneously, as Bob managed the successful campaign for Congress for John Conyers, Jr. in the fall of 1964.  Over the next decade, Bob guided several campaigns that changed the landscape of Detroit and Michigan politics, including:

 

Bob Millender approached each campaign prepared to work harder than the opposition to ensure victory for his candidate.  His early mornings, late nights and attention to detail were keys in the success of his candidates.  Bob personally inspected sites for campaign offices, pored over voter lists, maps and analyses, briefed area coordinators, arranged the distribution of campaign literature, and established the routes of sound trucks on Election Day.  He also did not accept external factors, such as inclement weather on Election Day, as an excuse for any unsuccessful campaign.  Bob felt that it was incumbent upon him as the campaign’s primary strategist to help shape issues such that voters would brave inclement weather to cast their ballots.

During this period of constant campaign activity for Bob, Louise was also involved in multiple capacities.  She was a loving wife, mother and homemaker, providing the stable home environment that allowed Bob to focus so much attention on city and state politics.  In addition, she frequently talked with Bob about candidates, optimum locations for campaign offices and other campaign-related concerns.  Louise also opened up their home to the various campaigns, frequently feeding workers, organizers and the candidates themselves.  The Millender residence was a haven for all who believed in and worked for the cause of political change in the city of the Detroit and the state of Michigan.  In addition, Bob and Louise gave freely of their time and financial resources in support of the candidates and causes that they believed in, usually with no prospect of any repayment, and never expecting anything in return for their support.

When asked about his involvement in the politics of his city, Bob said – “You know all the promises of the Declaration of Independence, the ones about all men being created equal with equal rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  Well, I believe in them.  I’m going to do everything I can possibly do to change the things that deny those promises.  And I believe it can be done.”

One of the legacies of the Millenders’ political involvement in the city of Detroit is their commitment to building the next generation of leaders.  During his lifetime, Bob actively recruited young people to work on campaigns and gave them meaningful tasks to execute.  His knowledge and experience was an invaluable resource to these young people, and the guidance that he provided helped in their development as political strategists and public servants.  Today, many of the men and women that received their initial political indoctrination working on campaigns that Bob guided are now working in a variety of public service roles across the city, state and nation.  In addition, those same individuals are adding to the Millender legacy in their mentoring of young people.

After Bob’s death in 1978, Louise became a torchbearer for Bob’s memory and his work.  The establishment of the Robert L. Millender, Sr. Memorial Fund was due in large part to her effort, and she was also a supporter of the Fifteenth District Democratic Party Organization’s Century Club.  Louise’s work and philanthropy extended beyond the Millender Fund and the political arena, as she supported many other organizations, such as:

Louise Millender passed away in 2001 and following her death, the Millender Fund was renamed the Robert and Louise Millender Memorial Fund.  Bob and Louise were truly a team, so it is fitting that the name of the fund honors both of their efforts in the cause of political change.