MUBG Profile

Pete Millier Retires After 19 Years as MUBG's Director

Landscape Services groundkeeper, Jeremy Grasela

Left: Mizzou Botanic Garden Director Pete Millier, talks with Kim Lovelace Hainsfurther and her father, Wayne Lovelace, of the Forrest Keeling Nursery in Elsberry, Mo. They are surrounded by the sapling Legacy Oaks that Forrest Keeling donated to MUBG, 24 of which now are planted on Mizzou’s Francis Quad. Right: Mizzou Botanic Garden Director Pete Millier leads a tour on the Mizzou Quad for Friends of the Garden members and supporters.


For the last 19 years of MU’s 25 years as a botanic garden, a thoughtful, generous, all-things-MU-enthusiast has led the campus’ horticultural charge. Pete Millier was hired in 2005 to serve as director of Campus Facilities-Landscape Services and Mizzou Botanic Garden (MUBG).


“My interview for the job was in December of 2004. I spent the two days before the interview hiking the campus to get to know it and fell in love,” Millier said. 


Now, nearly two decades later, Millier has announced his plan to retire on March 22, 2024. If possible, he is even more enthusiastic about MU’s allure than he was when he first stepped foot on campus.


“Mizzou Botanic Garden adds a measure of excellence to MU,” he said. “It provides a unique opportunity for the university to engage everyone who steps foot on campus.” 


Millier and his wife Pam plan to stay in Columbia but will do some traveling, 


“We plan to explore the state and the surrounding area,” he said. Their new puppy, a standard poodle named Atticus, will accompany them. They also have plans to visit Ireland, France and Norway, “where my people originated,” with extended family in 2026.


“I like to garden and read and will have time to do more of both, Millier said. “And I really love to fish. I plan to catch striped bass in Arkansas’ Beaver Lake and golden trout in the Sierras.” 


It all started in California

Born Romain Pierre Millier in Bakersfield, California, he was the fifth of nine children. From an early age, Millier was drawn to the outdoors. As an adolescent, he said his stepfather’s 20-acre “hobby farm” resonated with him.


“It gave me aspirations to become a farmer,” he said. “I really thought that’s what I wanted to do.” 


After earning a degree in agricultural sciences at Fresno State University in 1977, he and his wife Pam, whom he had married just before his senior year, moved to King City, California, where he worked as a manager for a landscape nursery, a job he had lined up before graduating.


Millier went on to manage a large retail garden center in Morgan Hill, California.


“Those were fun years,” Millier said. “I learned a lot about managing people. And I was in the first group of Certified California Nurserymen.”


Millier and his wife purchased a home in Shawnee, Oklahoma, close to where Pam’s family lived, as a rental property. But when the garden center where he was working closed, they moved to the Sooner State where Pete began working as the superintendent for the Tinker Air Force Base golf course in Midwest City. 


“I got that job because I knew what bentgrass was,” Millier said about the cool season grass that is used on putting greens. “I worked there six years, through Desert Storm. I was briefed that the golf course could be converted to a cemetery at any time, so that was always on my mind.”


When Millier’s brother called to alert him to a job opening as the manager for the Clovis, California Unified School District’s extensive and expanding landscape and grounds, he and Pam moved back to their home state where Millier worked for three years gaining his first academic landscape experience. 


“From there, my future boss at Fresno State University recruited me to serve as my alma mater’s grounds manager,” Millier said. “That included an arboretum, academic areas, parking and sports facilities.”


While working at Fresno State, Millier also took evening classes to earn his master’s in public administration.


In the late 1990s, Millier’s supervisor attended an Association of Physical Plant Administrators (APPA) conference. At that educational facilities professionals event, he attended a session that profiled a campus landscape plan presented by Tom Flood, the original head of MU’s Landscape Services and the first director of MUBG. Upon his return to California, he asked Millier to develop a plan for Fresno State — a serendipitous first brush with MUBG.


In 2004, the Milliers began investigating their options to move somewhere that would put them closer to their daughter in New Jersey, and their son serving in the military on the East Coast. In his search, Millier came across a position at MU, applied and landed the job.


Even though his new position somewhat mirrored the job he left, there were distinct differences.


“I had grown up and worked in areas that were inland deserts, so the biggest challenge was just learning the seasons and the seasonal nature of gardens,” he said. “To this day, practicing horticulture here in Missouri is more of a challenge — and is more rewarding — than any of my other horticultural experiences. When planting perennials, you have one shot to get it right. 


“The one thing I didn’t pick up on during my interview was how much of my job would be weather-related, especially snow removal,” Millier said. “On Dec. 1, 2006, we had a 16-inch snow. It paralyzed the entire state for a week and forced us to really get our act together.”


Millier has come to believe that grounds management during weather events is his leading role among his varied responsibilities.


“Working to ensure the safety of the 45,000 people that are on campus every day is pretty important,” he said pointing to the snow route map on his office wall. “We have 11 routes that have to be cleared and then they need to be treated. 


“We have four contractors on call in addition to the one who helps us with outlying areas. “These days, we can clear a foot of snow in 24 hours,” he added. That includes the sidewalks and steps across campus.”


Millier said that maintaining and developing MUBG’s beautiful landscapes has been its own reward. He credits former MU Chancellor Barbara Uehling’s original efforts to unify and beautify the campus, former Chancellor Richard Wallace for his designation of the University of Missouri as a botanic garden in 1999, and his predecessor, Tom Flood, for doing the groundwork. 


He has considered his work with the Friends of the Mizzou Botanic Garden board and the Landscape Services crew to follow that lead and expand upon his predecessors’ vision to be truly gratifying. 


“The people I’ve worked with here have made my job so interesting. So much hard work and all of the landscapes we have created and maintained have resulted in so many positive interactions,” Millier said. 


“And getting to work with the volunteers on the MUBG advisory board — all with different expertise and backgrounds — has been just great. You can take that enthusiasm to the bank".


“We have this collective history,” he said, and he’s not quite ready to put it behind him. The current board president has asked him to join MUBG’s board.  


“I look forward continuing to participate but at a different level and in a different role,” he said.


Despite his fondness for the beauty of the campus garden, Millier’s favorite spot on the MU campus is the drive through the woods on the south side of campus, out by Providence Point.


“I imagine that is what a lot of the state looked like before it was developed. That drive has a calming effect on me,” he said.


When he visited campus before his interview, MIllier said he wondered to himself why he hadn’t gone to school someplace like MU. 


“That was an a-ha moment for me,” he said. “That’s when I decided that I wanted everyone else who visited campus to feel the same way I did: ‘This is where I belong.’” 


And he has spent the last 19 years working to achieve that goal. 

Mizzou Botanic Garden Director Pete Millier addresses the Friends of the Garden Advisory Board at an outdoor meeting on MU’s South Farm.

Mizzou Botanic Garden Director Pete Millier addresses the Friends of the Garden Advisory Board at an outdoor meeting on MU’s South Farm.