Whittier College is saying a mournful goodbye to President Emeritus Eugene S. Mills. Gene (as he was called) passed away at the age of 95 on Aug. 17, just months after his wife Dorothy (Dottie) Wildman Mills. He was president of Whittier College from 1979 – ‘89. He also taught psychology at the College for ten years, nearly two decades earlier. A message relayed from a former psychology student of his noted, “Gene always placed an emphasis on striving for excellence.”
During Mills’ presidency, he oversaw the initial funding and construction of the Shannon Center for Performing Arts and Harris Residence Hall, as well as renovation of Platner Hall. The Whittier Scholars Program arose during his administration, which brought national attention to the College. He also supported faculty in their efforts to revise curriculum. Among those who had the pleasure of working with Mills was Professor Mike McBride, or Doc as he is often called by his students. He said, “As president, Gene was an outstanding listener who didn’t intrude on others’ thoughts during conversations and was great at pulling it all together in the end.”
Mills was a lifelong Quaker. Prior to Claremont Graduate University, he attended Earlham College, another Quaker school. He and Dottie were also lifelong members of the West Newton Friends Church in Indiana. Mills demonstrated his Quaker values in his leadership; he was considerate, listened to different perspectives, and patiently waited for consensus when making decisions.
Mills is also remembered as being remarkably kind, humble, and compassionate. “Gene’s sense of empathy was shown when, after the Whittier earthquake of 1987, he and Dottie were among six people who offered to take in Professor Anne Kiley after her house had been moved off of its foundation, requiring her to seek new accommodations,” Doc recalled. Mills tried to make himself accessible for students; he and Dottie loved hosting numerous gatherings of students and faculty in their home.
Gene and Dottie’s private getaway was a cabin on the St. Lawrence River, near the University of New Hampshire, where they spent most of their retirement. There, he had progressed through a series of positions, from professor to provest, and eventually president. While at UNH, he also demonstrated his passion for educating the broader public by helping to establish the Elderhostel Program, now known as the Road Scholar Program. The program gives adults, mostly over 60, the chance to travel to different places within the U.S. and internationally to take part in short, week-long academic classes and experience different cultures. To date, the program has served over four million students, consists of 5,500 learning adventures, and receives 100,000 participants annually. In 1993, Mills published The Story of Elderhostel, which gives an introspective view of Elderhostel as an organization and participants’ experiences. His final academic position was as interim president for Earlham College from 1996 – ‘97.
Doc shared a story he heard about Mills: “The alumna I spoke to mentioned how, once, Gene had rushed to offer her an umbrella when she was getting soaked by a storm as she walked across the Mendenhall parking lot. Apparently, many students regarded him as a ‘favorite uncle type’ — warm and friendly, not at all like a weird uncle who comes by just for the Thanksgiving turkey.” Even 30 years after his presidency, Whittier College fondly remembers Mills and hopes for the best for his descendants — his son, David, daughter, Sara, and his grandchildren. Finally, Doc stated, “All in all, Gene lived up to the Quaker values of caring, compassion, service, and leadership. We were all very sad to hear of his passing.”
Featured Photo: Courtesy of The Marquette
Emmanuel Jones began writing for the Quaker Campus in January of 2019, and is currently the section editor for Features. He particularly enjoys interviewing and writing personal stories, however he tries to show a variety of skills. He challenges himself by writing about a wide range of subjects, as well as creating a majority of his own visual content.