Milton F. Fillius, Jr. ’44 and Nelma “Nikki” Nenneau Fillius, who exchanged marriage vows in the College Chapel on a spring day in 1996, were high school sweethearts whose romance rekindled later in life after they had raised families of their own. Milt and Nikki shared a passion for jazz, particularly of the swing era, and befriended many of that genre’s legendary musicians. To help preserve and perpetuate an appreciation of jazz for future generations, Milt initiated the living history project that is the Jazz Archive, the core of which today includes 325 incomparable video interviews with notable players and composers.
He was also instrumental in launching the Fallcoming jazz concert series, as well as in the awarding of honorary Hamilton degrees to jazz masters including his dear friends vocalist Joe Williams, bassist Milt Hinton, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison and pianist Sir George Shearing.
Milt grew up in Rochester, N.Y., where he and Nikki first met. He came to Hamilton as a member of the Class of 1944, but his studies were interrupted by service in World War II as a submarine officer. After receiving his Hamilton degree in 1947, he earned a law degree from the University of Michigan and was admitted to the California Bar. Rather than practicing law, Milt applied his talents to business: first in shipbuilding, then tuna packing and land development, and finally citrus processing. He finished his career as chair and president of Vita-Pakt.
Milt was a life trustee of the College and received an honorary doctor of humane letters in 1996. Through his prominent association with the Drown Foundation, he not only supported the Jazz Archive, but established the Drown Prize Scholarship and the Drown Loan Fund. Despite living 3,000 miles from campus, and even as their health declined, Milt and Nikki were frequent visitors to College Hill. After Milt’s death in 2002, Nikki moved back to western New York where she nurtured 88 trees on her Geneva property, one for each year of her life. She remained an ardent supporter of the Jazz Archive and Fallcoming concerts until her death in 2012.
In recognition of their devotion and generosity to the world of jazz and to Hamilton College, the Jazz Archive is dedicated in honor of Milton and Nelma Fillius.