90-year-old Northland man ready to dance with 10 daughtersWilbur “Pete” Mills, 90, is planning to dance with 10 of his 11 daughters Friday at the Father Daughter Dinner Dance in Duluth.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Wilbur “Pete” Mills is no dancer, he insists.
“My body moves, but my feet won’t,” the 90-year-old Carlton man said.
But on Friday, at the Father Daughter Dinner Dance at Greysolon Ballroom, Mills is planning — somewhat reluctantly — to dance with his daughter, Bridget Chard.
And also with his daughters Gail Biron, Janet Tischer, Jean Krusz, Patricia VanHoever, Victoria Heinrich, Anne Schilling, Ruth Hagenah, Clare Cassandro and Mary Palmer.
Ten of the 14 children born to Pete and Connie Mills — there also are three sons and one other daughter — are looking forward to dancing with their dad on Friday. Most still live in Minnesota, but Heinrich is coming from Union, Wash.
Krusz is the instigator. She came up with the idea after hearing about the father-daughter event last year.
“I just thought it would be a cool thing to do because I’ve never danced with my dad before,” said Krusz, 60, of Duluth.
If you’re there, you’ll probably see Mills. Completely bald, he’s a big man with big features: big ears, big nose, big, glow-in-the-dark smile. He has a gravelly voice with the power to have risen above the chaos of 14 children.
And he has a very big laugh.
It may be impossible to do justice to Pete Mills’ laugh in print. It sometimes starts with a short burst and then three loud blasts: ha HA! HA! HA! It is so infectious that if you hear it and don’t find yourself laughing along, you’d better check for a pulse.
It’s a laugh that was inherited by his daughters, or at least by the four who joined their dad last week for an interview in the commons area of the Woodland Pines senior apartment building where he lives.
To fully appreciate the memories shared by Krusz, Schilling, Hagenah, Cassandro and their father during that interview, you must imagine every anecdote followed by gales of boisterous laughter.
Home in a hospital
There was a lot of laughter in the former Eppard Hospital across from the middle school in Cloquet that the Mills family moved into in the early ’70s, the sisters said.
It had six bedrooms upstairs — the smallest had been the nursery, the one with the big lights had been the operating room.
“When we moved in, all the call lights worked for exactly one night,” Hagenah said.
The children apparently got a lot of use out of the call lights that first night, because Mills took them out the next day.
The house had a half-bath downstairs, where the parents had their bedroom, and one bathroom upstairs.
“My dad took the door off because all the girls were pounding on the door to get into the bathroom,” Cassandro said. “He hung a curtain.”
Added Schilling: “With all those girls in there you wanted to stay and primp, and you just couldn’t. There were two in the tub and maybe two at the sink and one on the toilet.”
Pete and Connie
Mills, who served as a weather observer for the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, married Connie Considine in January 1946. They were married 65 years until her death on Aug. 19, 2011.
Pete and Connie Mills started out in Bemidji but moved to Cloquet, where most of the children were born, he said.
Because of his career, Cassandro is reminded of her father every time she smells oil, she said.
“I was in the petroleum business most of my life,” Mills said. “I was in a service station and I delivered house-to-house and I fixed furnaces and I ended driving a transport.”
The children were spaced out over 20 years — no multiple births — and range in age from 46 to 66 today. Bridget, the oldest, was pregnant with her first child at the same time her mother was pregnant with Mary, the youngest, the sisters said.
“You know, I always thought that whenever Mom left the house for a short period of time that she always came home with a baby,” Hagenah said.
After a big laugh, Mills added: “In those days you stayed in the hospital for five days. She said that was the only vacation she ever got.”
Stacked up like cordwood
Mills was present for all but a couple of the births, he said. Once “toward the end,” Connie was pregnant when it was time for his annual duck-hunting trip to Bemidji. “I said, ‘Can I go hunting?’ And she said, ‘Well, it’s at least two weeks before I have a baby. So go ahead.’ ”
Stopping at his mother-in-law’s in Bemidji after the hunting trip, Mills found a note on the table: “Gone to Cloquet. Connie had a baby.”
The daughters recalled numerous memories of growing up in their big family: the fur coat Mills would drape over a complaining child on a cold, winter night; a drive to Torchlight Lake for a swim at the end of a hot day, followed by a treat at Dairy Queen; Sunday drives in the Oldsmobile.
“We only had one car, no seat belts,” Schilling said. “We’d stack up like cordwood.”
There were no luxuries, but it didn’t matter, the sisters said.
“We didn’t have much, but we had each other,” Schilling said. “And we had Dad.”
He may not be a dancer, but Mills continues to live an active, healthy life. He lives on his own and drives himself and until recently delivered Meals on Wheels. He enrolled in Weight Watchers with Krusz and took off 30 pounds.
He is said to play a mean game of bridge.
Any other interests? he was asked.
“That’s it,” Mills said cheerfully. “That and eating. Oh, I like life. It’s been good.”