Adeline Souther Mills and her husband Wilbur
Adeline Souther Mills and her husband Wilbur
God's Provision Inspires the Largest-Ever Gift to SPU
By her own account, Adeline Souther Mills is one spunky lady. After her marriage at 18 came a grinding routine of 12-hour work days, seven days a week. But despite slim pay of eight cents an hour plus meals, and a life of little more than work and sleep, she and her husband "were just as happy as millionaires. We had jobs!"
Then one day they were millionaires, having parlayed a string of profitable business ventures, including motels, mobile home parks and food operations, into a sizeable estate. Though childless, the Millses decided they wanted to help others' children have a Christian college education.
This fall, Adeline Mills -- and posthumously her husband, Wilbur -- presented Seattle Pacific University with some of the fruit of their labors, a $3.925 million endowed unitrust. It is the largest single gift in the school's history and has the potential to pay the full tuition of at least 14 students every year in perpetuity.
"What a huge difference a gift this large makes," says Gene Keene, director of major gifts and planned giving. "It will begin by paying $200,000 a year for student scholarships."
For the little girl from Minot, North Dakota, the gift is the fulfillment of a lifetime of divine provision. It all began in poverty for Adeline, in a home where her parents had eight mouths to feed. "But my mama never turned anyone away!" she exclaims. "We were raised on prayer meetings at home. When you pray, God's right there to help you out."
Throughout their life together, Adeline and Wilbur were wholly committed to their goal of scholarships for students. "Wilbur and I always said our savings and hard labor would not go to buy new cars, boats or anything frivolous," explains Adeline. "Over the years we planned on benefiting only a Christian college." The couple knew about SPU because of their nephew, Loren Anderson '59, who had been a successful student and all-time career leading scorer in basketball at the school.
"I don't believe in compromise," says Mills. "We have to be educated academically and spiritually. I know, because Wilbur and I got everything from our heavenly father. Sixty-three years and 10 days we were married." A deep love and pride burnish her memories of her husband, who died in 1995, and the life they shared.
Back in the days of the traveling Royal American Carnival, Adeline and Ross "Wilbur" DeCazelet Mills owned and operated their own cook house and two fast food "grab joints" under an exclusive contract. Then came the day the concession management asked for 10 percent of the gross, plus additional rents.
"I stomped my foot and determined right there and then that no one would cheat us anymore," says Adeline. "That's when we left the carnival."
Years later, running a successful motel in Santa Maria, California, Adeline drove a used Mercedes. But God, not material luxuries, meant everything to this couple. Take the day Adeline was kidnapped.
The boy was 21, the girl 16, and they had a gun. They were referred to the Millses' motel for a room while their car was being repaired. After registering, the boy said he'd left his billfold in his car. Adeline offered a ride. En route the boy revealed the weapon and demanded money.
"That's when I realized I was kidnapped!" Mills remembers. "I started to pray and peace flooded my soul. I spoke in a soft voice, but many's the sermon I gave them on the way! The boy got mad and said, ‘Of all the people in the world to kidnap, we had to pick a Christian!'" In San Francisco, they left her with the car, unharmed.
Three days later, back at the motel, the young people returned and surrendered their gun to a startled Adeline. She had told them, "I am never going to harm you." They told her, "You are the only human being we trust." Adeline refused to press charges. "Revenge is for the Lord," she told the police.
Mills' resolve is much admired by Seattle Pacific President Philip Eaton. "She is a remarkable woman: strong, bright, very thoughtful, deeply Christian, hardworking, savvy. She had a vision for her own life and a strong sense of clear values on which to build that life. Now she has passed that vision on, and so many others will benefit."
"Adeline's a tough negotiator who sticks to her principles," agrees Nancy Christel, the SPU planned giving officer who has worked with Mills. "She gives all the glory to God, and you have to love her for it."
The last word belongs to the students themselves. "I was amazed when I heard about the gift and excited that it is all designated for scholarships," says Jeff Nelson, student body president. "It is incredibly generous."