A dedicated member of the University of Chicago Library staff for nearly two decades, Milton Watkins warmly greeted students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors at the Regenstein entry desk between 1992 and 2012. He died of multiple myeloma on April 13 at the age of 90.
Often referred to as the “Face of the Place,” Milton was the first person most people saw when entering the Joseph Regenstein Library. He was able to make everyone who entered the Library feel welcome—students, faculty, and staff (some of whom came at exactly the same time each day), alumni, prospective students and their families, visiting scholars, and the occasional tourist who wanted to see Regenstein or Mansueto. He provided expert assistance when requested to both first-time visitors and long-time library users.
Milton began working at the University after a very full life. He grew up at 38th and Federal on the South Side, attending Edward Hardigan Grammar School and Wendell Phillips High School. Following graduation, he served in the U.S. Army as a radar technician and troop instructor between 1944 and 1952. After returning to Chicago, Milton wed his fiancée Mary, who survives him. Milton worked for the American Maize Products Company for 30 years; he also worked for the United States Post Office for 27 years as a postal clerk. It was only after these retirements that he came to the Library.
Outside of the Library, much of Milton’s time was spent sharing in the ministries of St. John Church-Baptist at 48th and Michigan, where he served for many years as a deacon. Milton’s dedication to the service of others as a church deacon carried over to his work at the Library. He was a wonderful listener and helpful counselor whose smile and laugh could cheer up almost anyone.
For those entering Regenstein who Milton saw every day, his cheery “How are you doing?” made the day special. For Library staff, his big smile and his reminder that “there’s a lot to do in a big place like this” also helped to make the work day special. His friendly presence created a welcoming environment throughout the entire Library.
In addition to his wife, Mary, Milton is survived by his son-in-law Daniel Adams, his grandchildren (Danny Adams, Sheena Adams, Quintin Adams), and his great grandchildren (Devon Adams, Jordan Davis, Danyel Adams). Milton’s daughter and Daniel’s wife, Anita Watkins-Adams, died in 2012.
A memorial visitation will be held on Saturday, April 23 at St. John Church-Baptist, 4821 S. Michigan beginning at 10 a.m. until the 11 a.m. funeral service.