Historical museum director remembered for enthusiasm, caring
Teresa Mills, who died Saturday, didn’t necessarily match what the board of Marion Historical Museum was looking for when choosing a new director two years ago.
The board was hoping for someone from the community who had a few computer skills and grant writing experience.
Mills was a registered nurse from Washington State who answered a newspaper ad for what she thought would be an interesting job.
What set her apart was the spark she possessed, former director Peggy Blackman said.
“I just knew she was somebody that would not be afraid to take on almost anything we asked, because she was willing to work and willing to learn,” Blackman said.
Blackman said she knows the board and the community Mills made her own will miss her terribly.
“It is not fair that we won’t be able to walk in and see her smiling face,” Blackman said. “She just lifted your spirits.”
Teresa Mills died Saturday after a short, sudden illness. Burial for family and friends is set for a later date.
Barbara Smith, her sister, said Mills loved Kansas for its wide, open spaces and visited often.
“Washington is pine trees and mountains and everything,” said Smith. “She said ‘You know, you can see forever, here. You can see forever in Kansas.’ ”
When their brother became ill and then Smith’s husband, Mills left her old house on 40 acres of land south of Olympia to help her sister cope.
“She was our rock throughout that,” said Smith. “That last year, I could not have done it without her.”
Mills knew next to nothing about Kansas’ history but quickly became intrigued, and then obsessed, Smith said. The sisters would take county drives to sites Mills found in the museum’s trove of books and wanted to investigate.
“She would call and say to me ‘Did you know this about Kansas?’ ” Smith said. “She would just go on and on and on.”
Blackman was stunned by Mills’ hunger to know “as much as she could grasp.”
“She was a person that loved to dig into boxes and find out what was there,” she said. “We had boxes upon boxes of stored stuff and there was not a box she had not looked into.
“She retrieved some wonderful artifacts that were just stored.”
Mills showed the same zeal as curator of the museum’s treasures, regularly changing the displays and looking after the old Baptist Church that housed them.
“This place has never been cleaner than it is now,” Blackman said. “It does not have the ‘old clothes’ smell you find in museums of the age such as ours, with an old building from1880s.”
Mills was also a key player in an ongoing effort to scan piles and piles of old photos and upload them into a software program that will make them accessible for research.
The originals are then cataloged and properly stored to keep them from being destroyed.
“She was instrumental in preserving the history of Marion,” Blackman said.
Smith said everyone would remember Mills for her open and giving personality and the way she made Marion’s history live for any age group.
Youngsters who completed the museum’s scavenger hunt could score an arrowhead or many other cool prizes.
Some of the neighborhood children drifted into the museum just to see her.
Mills knew no stranger, often greeting visitors a warm smile, giving them guided tours, and sending them off with a hug, Smith said.
“I have people come up and tell me ‘She gave the museum life,” Smith said. “She put her heart and soul into it.”
Last modified April 29, 2020