McMillan Greenhouse honors generous cultivator of beautiful flowers

Dorothy McMillan orchid
Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dorothy McMillan was known for her love of exotic flowers and her philanthropy, and the University benefited greatly from her largesse. A loyal backer of UNC Charlotte, McMillan donated her collection of 3,000 orchids to campus. This gift blossomed and led to the creation of a permanent campus facility that attracts thousands of visitors annually.

The Dorothy and Thomas McMillan Academic Greenhouse, dedicated on Sept. 7, 1983, honors its namesakes. Dorothy Krueger Schoenith McMillan was born in Charleston, S.C., but grew up in Charlotte. A graduate of Harding High School, she married Joseph Schoenith, who had opened the Schoenith Candy Company in Dilworth, in 1935. During World War II, company chemists developed an artificial sweetener and later cosmetics and perfumes.

Three years after Schoenith died in 1960, Dorothy McMillan met her second husband Thomas at a medical conference in Hong Kong; they married in 1965 and initially resided in Charlotte. Thomas McMillan was founding medical director of the Mesa Vista Hospital in San Diego, Calif. A native of Oakwood, Texas, McMillan earned a medical degree from the University of Texas at Galveston.

The McMillan’s estate was located at the corner of Carmel and Providence roads; the site is now a residential complex. The couple became longtime supporters of the University, and a mutual interest in botany with UNC Charlotte’s Herbert Hechenbleikner and founder Bonnie Cone led the McMillans to donate their extensive orchid collection to campus.

The McMillans, who frequently vacationed in Hawaii, decided to move to the Aloha state permanently in the early 1980s. At the same time, they agreed to contribute $400,000 to fund a comprehensive botanical complex on the UNC Charlotte campus; it became McMillan Greenhouse.

Larry Mellichamp, in a 2005 memorial article on Dorothy McMillan published in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Exchange magazine, called the McMillans the “driving force” behind the creation of the University’s orchid collection and greenhouse.

“We at UNC Charlotte owe much to the McMillans,” stated Mellichamp, director of the Botanical Gardens at that time. “Thanks in great part to their generous and dedicated support … the McMillan Greenhouse and orchid collection have flourished, becoming great attractions for plant lovers around the world.”

At the 1983 dedication of the roughly 10,000-square-foot McMillan Greenhouse, Mellichamp showed off the “Dorothy McMillan” orchid. Since its inception the McMillan Greenhouse has drawn visitors from virtually every state and many countries. In addition to the orchid collection, the facility houses various tropical and desert plant displays, as well as the University’s Titan Arums or corpse flowers, native to Sumatra. In July 2015, Odoardo or “Odie” bloomed inside the greenhouse, and countless people turned out to catch a whiff of the noxious scent, often described as akin to rotting flesh.

Dorothy McMillan passed away Sept. 15, 2005; her husband Thomas died Nov. 6, 1999.

Atkins Library Special Collections contributed to this article.