Milton Kline

Fresh out of high school with two potential summer jobs, Milton Kline was faced with a choice: pickles or paint? Taking a pass on the pickle factory position might have been the best decision he ever made.

A chief painter at the University of Mary Washington, Kline has been covering the campus in satins and semi-glosses for more than three decades, but UMW’s walls aren’t all that he brightens. He does the same for employee morale as president of the Staff Advisory Council and for young people’s futures as leader of the popular student-painting program. He spends evenings writing referral letters to help his charges land jobs, turns up at their ballgames and class presentations to show support, and trusts them to do their own thing to help build their confidence.

“I let students manage themselves,” Kline said. “In a student-run organization, they have ownership.”

By now, Kline has his UMW painting schedule in sync with the school year. Projects like stairwells and railings can be done any time, residence hall rooms have to wait until after graduation in May, and academic buildings can be painted only after summer session ends.

He’s constantly tracking a pinwheel of colors and brands – ivory, eggshell, and off-white; Duron, Douglas, and Sherwin-Williams – so he’ll know what to use when touch-ups are needed. Columns of paint cans rise on shelves near his no-frills desk in a dusty corner of Facilities Services. But his “real office” can be seen rolling down College Avenue – a steel-gray ’83 Dodge van that arrived at Mary Washington just a few years after he did.

Kline, who lives in King George County with wife Linda and son Erik, a senior in high school, did dabble briefly in another line of work. He grew up with parents who were educators, and, after earning a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from James Madison University, accepted a teaching position at a Northumberland County, Va., middle school. That lasted six weeks.

“The kids didn’t exactly respond the way they do on the video clips,” he said.

College students are a much better match for Kline. Every year he scours the flood of applications for painting-crew jobs, looking for motivated members who’ll take pride in their work and get along well.

“I want them to be like vegetable soup,” he said of his students, many of whom have gone on to jobs as lawyers and professors, and in other respected professions. “You’ve got lima beans, corn, tomatoes. If somebody throws a rotten tomato in there, nobody wants to eat it.”

With his vast institutional knowledge and campus-wide friendships, Kline thinks of himself as “the Google search engine for Mary Washington,” putting students in touch with those who can best provide counsel on the careers they’re considering. Kline’s own advice on choosing a profession? Besides steering clear of the pickles?

“Success in life is measured by how happy you are,” he said, “not by your salary or your job title.”

What do you love most about UMW? The opportunity to work with students – the same reason everybody’s here, the friends I’ve made, and the opportunity to work under the leadership of Rick Hurley.

What would you change about UMW? I’d like to see the University build its endowment so all employees and students can have more opportunities. I’d like alumni to realize their gifts aren’t charity; they’re investing in the value of their diplomas.

How would you describe yourself? Goal-oriented. I like people. I have high expectations. Lucky – I think I have the best job here. If I had my choice to do anything here, I’d want this job.

What motivates you? When students who are now alumni contact me and tell me that their lives have been affected by the experiences they gained here.

What inspires you? Recently, the drive the Staff Advisory Council did to get school supplies for children. It was the best example of a sense of community among different departments. It’s about the sense of community we have at the University, the school spirit.

What do you enjoy doing? Playing golf and going to JMU football and basketball games.

What are you afraid of? That when I’m retired, I won’t be as fulfilled as I am now.

What keeps you awake at night? Family issues, like everyone else. And wanting to be sure all the students working for me are being challenged and that they are reaching their full potential.


  1. Hey, I knew this guy before he was famous! Great article about a great guy who has never lost his easy-going approach to life! Congratulations, Milton!

  2. Cindy Cisneros says

    I think about Milton’s first name being Homer (really, it is!) and smile. I got some of my most important philisophical and life advice working for Milton on paint crew. Best advice I ever got was his quote at the end of the article that he embodies. And to think I got paid, but didn’t pay tuition, for such a great part of my education!

  3. Wayne Beasley says

    I have known Milton since College. He has always something to say and most is worth listening to. He hasn’t changed since I have known him. Milton is there when you need him and will help even when do not asked. Whatever he comment to, he put 110% effort into the endeavor.

  4. Sylvia Sierra says

    Working for Milton on the Student Paint Crew was one of the best parts of being a student at UMW! He is an amazing person to work for and to get to know – he always brightened my day and made work so much fun. Its true that he spends his free time supporting his students; he came to one of my research presentations on campus and helped me get a teaching job after college. He also tried to trick me into eating “macaroni pizza” and into believing he had President Obama’s signature on a napkin. Thanks, Lisa, for giving him the recognition he deserves with your well-written article!

  5. Milton is the best! His method of choosing who would do well on paint crew (at least when I was there) was to decide in the interview whether or not he would enjoy taking a road trip with them. It just makes so much sense.

  6. Kate DeMazza says

    Great article about one of UMWs best! Speaking from experience, Milton is someone who everyone who he employs feels lucky to have worked for.

  7. Martha Steffey says

    Milton was a major part of my undergrad college experience- great article!

  8. Erin Ridout says

    Milton is the best! Student Paint Crew was an invaluable experience for me and worth the long hot Virginia summers in the unairconditioned dorm rooms 🙂

  9. Alison Samuels says

    Milton was the best boss ever. I count myself lucky to have worked with him. His advice and his stories were constantly amusing. He is the type of guy I know I can always call.

  10. Steven Apruzese says

    I worked on paint crew the summer of 2012 and loved every minute of it 🙂 Milton is awesome and very inspiring!

  11. Very nice article Lisa. Reading about someone else’s experience with Milton made me smile. He is one of the most influential teachers that I’ve ever had, and his lessons seem to apply in all areas of my life. I hear myself quoting him regularly. ” Try to visualize where you want the ball to go and concentrate on that; rather than focusing so much on where you don’t want it to go.” This was something that Milton told me when he took me golfing and I find myself repeating it in similar sports situations but I also like the way it applies to how one might move through life.
    I’m a visual artist and a drawing teacher and many of Milton’s lessons about painting inform the way that I teach fine art.
    Each time I hear myself quoting him to students I also enjoy telling the story my experience working for him. And like Cindy I make sure to include the not-so-trivial detail that he’s named after two great poets.
    Travis (painting crew ’00-’03)

    • carole garmon says

      HI Milton,
      Thank you soooo much for all that you do! Clearly you are a hit with the art students and faculty! This is beautiful and so are you! I am honored to work with you.

  12. Brian Brown says

    I second all the responses to this article. What kept me returning for three summers to the student paint crew was the kindness, wisdom, and good laughter Milton Kline gave to us every day of work. I won’t forget the memories and lessons I learned on paint crew and hope the program keeps carrying on into the future.