At a glance:
Miss Laura Mills devoted her entire life to the principle that a busy youngster is a happy one. For fifty years Miss Mills taught art and Nevada history in the Churchill County Schools. She was a Sunday school teacher at Epworth Methodist Church, a member of its choir, a community photographer, a contributor to western magazines, a skiing and swimming instructor and a readily available field trip guide.
Mills was born in Meadowvale, MN, the eldest of seven children. Her mother was an enthusiastic botanist and taxidermist. Each of the Millss children, directed by their parents, laid out, planted and tended individual gardens. As a result of her parents interest, Laura became enthused with the outdoors from early childhood.
For several years, her parents farmed in Elk River, Minnesota. After the economic panic of 1893, the Mills family moved to the Wildes District of Nevada in 1908. Shortly thereafter, they changed their homestead to the Sheckler District and began, again, to farm.
In 1912, Laura graduated from the original Churchhill County High School. Having decided to become a teacher, she passed her examinations and began her first teaching job in Tobar Station, Elko County in a one room school, with nine students, for $65 a month. She stayed for one year during which time she "traversed the fields of Clover Valley and hiked the valleys rugged mountains as hunter, fisherman, camera bug, rock-hound and naturalist." The following June she headed home to sign a contract to teach school in the Smart District School in Churchill County.
Never content with her education, she enrolled by correspondence in the University of Nevada (Reno) in 1918-19 and focused on art, music and natural history. In 1924, she was admitted to the Yosemite Field School (now Yosemite Institute), a selected group of twenty pupils who wandered the high Sierra Nevada. They lived in the park for six weeks, instructed by professors from the University of California at Berkeley. She studied there for several summers, which afforded herself an expanding knowledge of the natural history of the West. She soon became a recognized authority in this field.
Mills was appointed an honorary curator of ornithology in 1941 by the Nevada State Museum Board of Trustees. Between 1941-43, she gave to the museum a total of 114 mounted birds on which she had done the taxidermy herself. Many of them were native to the West.
Continuing to teach until 1953, when she officially retired from the school district, Laura Mills had taught in Churchill County for over forty years. Her students remember clustering around to make plans for the next field trip to Virginia City, to go on the latest hunt for bug specimens, to identify various flora and fauna, or perhaps to receive some needed direction and guidance. As a photographer, she took many of the pictures for Here is Nevada by Sawyer and Mack, The Past in Glass by the Ferraros, and The Antique Bottle Collection by Kendrick, all books published between 1964-66. She frequently presented photo programs on various tours around Nevada, and was a member of the Reno Colorfoto Club. She also led youth activities for 4-H clubs, Campfire Girls, church and musical groups. Laura Mills received the Distinguished Nevadan Award in 1968.
Mills died on December 25, 1973.
Biographical sketch by Sally Wilkins
Sources of Information: