MACOMB, Ill. - Western Illinois football letterwinner Steve Mills knows the special meaning of being a Leatherneck student-athlete. Now as a successful businessman, Mills wants to give a generous donation back to the athletics department.
Western Illinois University and Leatherneck Athletics announced that Mills has committed $250,000 to the Set the Standard: Higher Values in Higher Education campaign for the naming rights to the locker room portion of the football facility in honor of his uncle and aunt, Stephen A. and Katherine N. Mills.
"My uncle Steve and aunt Katherine had no children of their own, but had dozens of nieces and nephews and students who looked to them for advice and direction. They both gave of it freely," said Mills. "During my uncle's 30-plus years of teaching I'm sure that hundreds of his students continued their education at Western Illinois University. As a WIU graduate, my family and I are happy to be able to make this donation in their honor. I will be further reminded of them and the positive influence they both had on my life and the lives of others when I walk past this building on campus bearing their name."
The football locker room, built on the south side of Western Hall, was constructed in 1999. Other recent renovations include: giant action photos of former players, purchase of new equipment in the adjacent strength and conditioning room, and a NFL board with the names of Leathernecks who played in the league, while future renovations include updating the adjacent athletic training room.
"Steve's leadership gift is a vote of approval for Leatherneck Athletics," said WIU President, Dr. Jack Thomas. "His generosity is truly appreciated, and will make a difference in what the Leathernecks are able to accomplish. I thank Steve on behalf of the entire Western Illinois University community."
During his letterwinner years of 1969 and 1970, Mills played with several teammates that went onto the NFL and helped bring Western Illinois back to national prominence as a football powerhouse.
Under first-year head coach (and future Western Illinois and College Football Hall of Famer) Darrell Mudra, the 1969 team went 8-2 and won the Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title. Western went 7-3 the following year as a NAIA independent. The 15 victories he took part of matched the win total during the five previous years (1964-68).
"Steve's generous monetary commitment reflects the confidence he has in Leatherneck Athletics and specifically the football program. We certainly appreciate Steve's support as we continue our goal to shape the Leatherneck Football program into an annual contender," said Dr. Tim Van Alstine, university assistant vice president for student services and director of athletics. "We have an outstanding group of football alums. Steve is one of our many fans and past players who share the level of interest in seeing our programs succeed, with confidence they can win championships and make postseason appearances."
Stephen and Katherine Mills biography, courtesy of Steve Mills, Football '70
"Stephen A. and Katherine N. Mills were born just after the turn of the 20th century. They were married in 1942 and moved to the family farm just outside of Greenbush, Illinois in 1948.
They were great partners and together they managed a grain and cattle farm at that location for 36 years until his passing in 1984. My aunt Katherine still owns the farm today.
Steve graduated from Monmouth College with a science degree and from the University of Iowa with his master's. He was an athlete, scientist (worked on the atom bomb), and high school chemistry teacher (30-plus years at: Roseville, Monmouth, Yorkwood, and Alexis, Illinois).
Aunt Katherine ran the day-to-day operations of the farm with the hired men. She bought and sold livestock, grain and generally directed the enterprise. She also was a superb cook... as a boy working at their farm I had many a great meal at her kitchen table.
My uncle's avocation was farming, but his true love was teaching. He once told me he made sure he was prepared every day when he went into his classroom. He said, "I need to make sure that I have a spring in my step and a smile on my face." I think he believed that enthusiasm for learning was contagious and that it rubbed off. I'm sure with him in front of the class it did.
My uncle Steve and aunt Katherine had no children of their own, but had dozens of nieces and nephews and students who looked at them for advice and direction. They both gave of it freely.
My aunt and uncle in their retirement stayed pretty close to home. But what they very seldom missed no matter the location was the opportunity to attend high school athletic events. They had special affection for the schools were he once taught. With the advent of the Illinois High School football class tournaments I don't believe that they missed a local team's game. He also became the team's unofficial photographer and Kodak like him a lot.
During my uncle's 30-plus years of teaching I'm sure that hundreds of his students continued their education at Western Illinois University. As a WIU graduate I and my family are happy to be able to make this donation in their honor. I will be further reminded of them and the positive influence they both had on my life and the lives of others when I walk past this building on campus bearing their name."