Frances L. Mills
December 16, 1921 - September 2, 1997

Frances Mills, what an inspiring life she led. Frances had many skills and gifts, and she used them so generously.

Frances had a concern for those with mental retardation and was an active advocate for this cause in this community. As usual with Frances, she gave any need much more than lip service to the extent that she and her husband Millard made a life long commitment to this cause by adopting a boy with mental retardation.

Because she cared so much about children and education, she served on the Waterloo School Board and was the President of it because she cared about equality, fairness, and all people being treated with respect. She stood firm for integration in the years when because she was a vocal supporter of school integration, she was sent letters threatening her death.

Frances was greatly skilled musically. Because love of family and duty were so important to her, she gave up a promising career as an opera singer to come home to Waterloo and take care of her mother. She continued to use her musical gifts with her church and to enjoy greatly her music club. She was active in promoting the Community Concert series.

She also expressed herself beautifully through painting and if you ever went over to her house you were eventually shown her two favorite paintings, quite large and very emotionally moving ones which she had created depicting Jesus Christ. (If you ever come to my office, I will show you my favorite painting - one that Frances did of a vase of lilacs. Beside the vase are two cups of coffee with lilacs panted on the cups. Frances told me that it represented all the many talks we had over cups of coffee. Frances had an enormous gift for love and friendship, also.)

But the way I knew Frances most intensely and saw her use her skills so very effectively was through her relationship to the Family and Children's Council and the cause of child abuse prevention. Frances was the first president of the board of directors of the Family and Children's Council, from 1980 - 1984. In the late 70's Cathy Young had mobilized a most amazing collection of people who were concerned about child abuse and who formed the first board of directors of the Family and Children's Council. Out of all those fantastic people, because of Frances' leadership and reputation in the community, she was the person chosen for the honor of being the first president.

I had the great fortune to be selected as the director (coordinator, as we called it then) of the Family and Children's Council in April of 1980, and thus received the gift of knowing Frances. Her integrity, intelligence, commitment and planning skills were essential to the first years of the Family and Children's Council. Anyone who talked to Frances quickly realized that her dedication to children and to child abuse prevention was selfless and very deep.

After her second term as president was complete, she continued to serve on the board and various committees of the council throughout the rest of her life in Waterloo. She was active on the funding committee and constantly tried to come up with more ways to fund Council activities. When we started sexual abuse prevention in the schools. I was pleased but mildly surprised to find that Frances wanted to be one of the first presenters. She loved talking to the children and always took her own stuffed animal along to use with the children. Frances also served on the state board of the Iowa Chapter of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.

When I was the staff person for FCC, Frances sometimes gently pushed me to do just a little more than I was comfortable doing by volunteering to do most of the work on a particular project herself - and then she always kept her commitment. I remember a visit from "Spiderman (a child abuse prevention promotional project), for example, that Frances almost single handedly carried out. She just couldn't let any opportunity go by if it might help one child or more.

Besides being the first chair and moral barometer for FCC, Frances' most far reaching influence on the Council, I think, was her tenacity in staring the Parent to Parent project. At that time (1985?) we had fully developed the Parent Connection program, which provided volunteer support to high risk parents, and the program was going well. My job was about as full as I could competently handle. Frances, however, was adamant that as wonderful as that program was, we needed to be able to reach ALL mothers as soon as they had their babies, and to prevent child abuse at the earliest possible moment.

In order to talk me and others into adding this new program to the Council's array of programs. Frances volunteered to write a proposal for funding for the project, which would include funds for a staff person to run the new program. Not only did Frances write the proposal, but she, Mary Franken, and a few others presented it to the hospital's metro funding committee, which agreed to fund it. I heard later on that although the committee had not been favorably disposed towards the project before they heard about it, the moral strength. sincerity, and commitment of the people who presented the proposal convinced them. "They were such nice ladies who presented it and they believed in the idea so much what could we do but give it a try?" was the comment I heard later. FCC's exact programs have changed through the years, but services to new parents are still an important part of them, and we have Frances to thank, at least in part for that.

Although Frances cared deeply about the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area her commitment to children and child abuse prevention was not limited to this community When she and her husband moved to Indianapolis several years ago after taking a year off from volunteerism to enjoy her artistic abilities, Frances made a connection with the local child abuse prevention council, and in a short period of time single handedly started a "Kids on the Block" volunteer program. This program presents information about child abuse protection to children in the schools using puppets. Frances generated the funds to buy the puppets and train the volunteers. She recruited the volunteers mostly from her church and the Indianapolis Junior League. She was in her late 60's - early 70's when she created this new program. This kind of energy and commitment h is an inspiration to all of us, at any age.

Frances received a lot of awards and honors through the years, but they never meant a whole lot to her and she rarely talked about them or herself very much. She was one of those people who was genuinely more interested in others than in themselves. However, there was one story about herself that I heard several times from Frances, so I know it meant a lot to her. Here's that story, in Frances' words:

"When I was president of the school board I really loved spending a lot of time in the schools and seeing the wonderful things they were doing. One time a little boy came up to me. He looked at my gray hair and gasses, and with a quizzical look on his face and in a little piping voice he said, 'are you my grandmother?' I answered that yes, in a way I was his grandmother, because I cared a lot about him and that I cared a lot about all the children."

Frances would love for me to tell you that a great way for you to express your caring for all the children would be to contribute some of your money, time, and/or skills to the Family and Children's Council. I think it is especially meaningful to contribute to the Frances Mills Fund. We can't be everyone's grandmother, perhaps, but we can make a gift in the name of someone who was.

Pam Hays, FCC Director 1980-89

John's note: Mom told the story about the little boy slightly differently. He asked if she was someone's Grandma and Mom responded as above. But after her response, the boy said "you look like my Grandma." Mom says "thank you." Boy continues "she's 80 years old!!".