Helen Mills died peacefully of natural causes on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, at her residence at Brookdale Senior Living’s Wynwood at Twin Falls, at the age of 97 years.
Born on July 24, 1915, in Caldwell, Idaho, to Cora and Glenn Miller, she grew up in the farming communities near Caldwell and graduated from Caldwell High School in 1933. A quiet, dark-haired beauty, Helen attended the College of Idaho, where she excelled in public speaking as a member of the debate team. Named to the National Honor Society, she graduated in the class of 1937 with a B.A. in education. After graduation, Helen taught U.S. and world history in Filer and Richfield, and later in both Twin Falls and Boise. Helen loved learning and was a voracious reader and an advocate for literacy and education. She held memberships in American Federation of Women, Association of University Women and the National Toastmistress Club.
Helen married James Ireton “Ike” Mills, a handsome football and track star whom she had met at the College of Idaho, on March 29, 1941, in Boise. Ike’s Irish family had homesteaded the ranching community of Garden Valley in the 1860s; they shared a love of the land, fine horses and wide open spaces as Ike began working for the U.S. Forest Service. After Ike’s return from Okinawa with the Army, they resumed their life in the Forest Service, a long and adventurous career that took them to many locations in the remote mountains of Idaho, fostering their appreciation for wilderness. Helen was an accomplished horsewoman and often joined Ike on horseback as he cut trails, built and outfitted fire lookouts, and trained crews—and many a young firefighter was nourished by Helen’s famous apple pies.
Helen and Ike had two children, Julie Mills Gallagher (Brian) of Hailey, Idaho, and James Glenn Mills (Mary) of Seattle, Wash., and two cherished grandsons, Sean Ireton Mills and Alexander Sullivan Mills. They raised their family to be comfortable in their Western environment and surroundings, to look for the smallest wildflower or identify a soaring hawk. They taught them to appreciate their horses and pack mules, as well as fine books; Helen scoured lending libraries to provide enough reading to get them through their isolated summer mountain residences.
Helen had a lifelong love of outdoor adventures: of going “off the beaten track,” of countless picnics in every season; of driving or riding to enjoy the landscape; she loved clouds and skies and long walks when her horseback days were not as plentiful. Throughout her long life, she recited endless poems, “ditties” and songs for her children, their cousins and many friends.
When they retired from the Forest Service, Helen and Ike moved to Garden Valley where they lived for more than 30 years on Mills Mountain View Ranch, Ike’s family home overlooking the South Fork of the Payette River. It became a gathering place as it had been in years before, for family and friends and a community they both loved. Helen was passionate about the development of the Garden Valley Library and was tirelessly and actively involved there and in the historic Syringa Club.
After Ike’s death in 2001, Helen moved to Hailey, Idaho, where she enjoyed her family, as well as old and new friends, and furthered her appreciation for the Silver Creek Preserve with countless “adventures,” walks and picnics. In June 2006, Brookdale Senior Living’s Wynwood at Twin Falls became Helen’s last residence; she was accompanied there by her cat and constant companion, Lucky. Helen forged an unforgettable bond there with her compassionate caregivers, who became an extended loving family; her kindness, ready and engaging smile, laughter, warmth, wit and endless happy stories were appreciated and loved by her family, her many friends and all those who so graciously cared for her.
Helen was preceded in death by her husband of 60 years, Ike; her parents; her sister, Dorothy; and her brothers, Melvin and Alvin.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests to friends that any donation in Helen’s name be given to the Garden Valley Library, Garden Valley, ID 83622.