March 9, 1920 – June 20, 2017
The rise of a concerned parent activist to a seat on the Buffalo Board of Education is not a new phenomenon. The path was paved by Mollie Milch in the 1950s, at a time when it was unusual for women to take prominent roles in community affairs.
Mrs. Milch died Tuesday in Hospice Buffalo, Cheektowaga, after a lengthy illness. She was 97.
The mother of two boys, she was the president of the School 64 Parent Teacher Association. She also was chairwoman of the Public Education Committee for the Erie County League of Women Voters, where she campaigned to improve conditions in Buffalo schools.
Mrs. Milch became a familiar face at Board of Education meetings and school budget hearings, and she visited City Hall even more frequently after she was named to the City Planning Commission in 1953.
In those days, Board of Education members were not elected. Mayor Steven Pankow, who took office in 1954, made Mrs. Milch his first appointment to the board. Serving a single five-year term, she was board president in 1957-58 and fought for several reforms.
She pushed for better pay to attract qualified teachers, a construction program to upgrade outdated school buildings, foreign language instruction in elementary schools and more advanced classes for scholastically gifted students. She also helped establish numerous school libraries and the Peter Gust Economou food preparation program at Emerson High School.
While serving on the board, she also stepped in as a substitute teacher in the city classrooms.
“She used to say that’s how you find out what’s really going on,” said her son, Dr. Robert Milch, a retired surgeon and hospice physician.
She helped set up and was appointed first chairwoman of the Buffalo Youth Board in 1954, aimed at dealing with juvenile delinquency and gang violence, plus establishing recreation programs. She stepped down from that post in 1958 after a ruling that she could not serve on two city boards simultaneously.
Mrs. Milch received numerous honors. She was named an Outstanding Citizen by The Buffalo News in 1957. The Buffalo Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews presented her with its Susan B. Anthony Award in 1960. She also received the 1960 Achievement Award from the Buffalo Branch of the American Association of University Women. A new media center and library in School 76 was dedicated to her in 1971.
Born in Batavia, Mollie Miriam Pies was the youngest of six children of Russian immigrants. Her father, Max Pies, founded a furniture store that bore his name.
She graduated summa cum laude from Emerson College in Boston, Mass., in 1942 with a degree in education.
Within two weeks of her graduation, she married Dr. Elmer Milch, the first Jewish surgeon on the staff at Buffalo General Hospital and later a pioneer in numerous medical procedures, including the use of anticoagulants to prevent heart attacks in surgical patients. Introduced on a date arranged by their parents through a mutual friend, they had met only half a dozen times before the wedding.
“He was just wowed, right from the start,” her son said. “When he proposed to her, they were at the Park Lane.”
Before joining the School Board, she was active in numerous organizations. She was a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Community Center, was president of Group 2 of Hadassah and volunteered on annual Red Cross drives.
She also served on the Mayor’s Committee of Salacious Literature and was a member of the New York State Committee on the 1960 White House Conference on Education.
After her term on the Board of Education ended, she returned to volunteer work, primarily at Buffalo General Hospital, where she started the patient advocacy program. She also became one of the early supporters of Hospice Buffalo, where she was active with the Hospice Foundation and assisted at the in-patient center.
She also was a primary caregiver to her husband during a lengthy illness before his death in 1979. She lived for a few years in Rancho Mirage, Calif., after her marriage to Arthur Roth in 1985. He died in 1995.
Survivors include her other son, David, the award-winning screenwriter and television producer; four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held Thursday in Temple Beth Zion, 805 Delaware Ave.