By: Anastasia Dula, Class of '58 researcher and UM-Flint student
While he was growing up, Robert Mills never expected to be anything but a farmer. Consideration of a college education was given little emphasis at Ortonville High School in those days, the school from which he would graduate in a class of 31 students (perhaps 6 or 7 of whom intended to go to college afterward). However, one day during his senior year, he was abruptly pulled out of study hall and asked to substitute teach in his baseball coach’s eighth grade math class. He enjoyed the experience so much that, after he graduated, he decided to drive the 21 miles from Ortonville to Flint every day to attend the Flint Junior College in pursuit of a teaching degree. He credits the instructors at the Junior College with being the most influential in his entire academic career, as they took him from being completely unprepared for college to being a student who knew what to expect and was up to the challenge of collegiate work. He was delighted when the University of Michigan happened to establish the Flint Senior College in the very year that he completed his Junior College studies, and so he completed his last two years of undergraduate work here.
Mills decided to major in the history Teaching Certificate Program with a minor in biology, but felt very strongly that he would not go into debt to obtain his degree. He suspects that he is one of few students who paid for college by working on a dairy farm, but he enjoyed doing so and he achieved his goal of graduating debt-free. However, the farm chores that needed to be completed twice daily, in addition to the commute to and from Flint, left little time for socializing during his college years. He would utilize the library between classes, and study at home in the evenings and on weekends. His mother, who had completed a six-week teaching certificate program at Ypsilanti Normal School in her youth, was very supportive of his desire to go to college, while his father did not fight it but seemed as though he would rather have his son in the hayfield more often than in the classroom.
Mills went on to obtain his master’s degree from UM—Ann Arbor through a combination of extension courses taught at the Junior college and summer classes on the Ann Arbor campus, and found his graduate work to be quite easy compared to his rigorous undergraduate studies in Flint. He proceeded to teach junior and senior high school for several years in the Clarkston district before becoming principal of Bendle High School for 33 years. To this day, he is an adjunct professor of history in the Flint branch of Spring Arbor University, and an occasional substitute high school teacher in Grand Blanc.
I felt, and I still do, that having that connection with U of M added to the whole meaning of the degree and gave it more prestige. I was really happy to know that it not only was a new college, and that I was in the starting group, but that it was associated with one of the best of all.