The Airport Acres Neighborhood



Mills R. Everett: A Span of Two National Economic Depressions

This is a story of the life of a Blacksburg, Virginia, citizen. It's a true story, uncontaminated by the writer, just the story of a citizen, his early hardship, military service, and his many roles in war, the church, work, and family life. Many people pass through our lives and we are unconscious of their contributions, the forces influencing them, the lessons learned, and the wisdom they can impart for our future. This story may be a brief honor but it is intended to be useful information about community and what has created it in the past and what will work in the future. Honor or not, people need to know about themselves. In summary, they need to have a basis for considering how they are alike or differ from others, and to hear or read that they are seen as a good person, and have gained conspicuous life success as honest worker, soldier, good father, loyal active churchman, and town citizen.

Julia T. Everett who traced the family and wrote "William and Some of His Family", January 31,1979, said "It seems a pity that we cannot know more about those who preceded us a hundred or so years ago ... A hundred years from now family may mean nothing if politics and/or science should choose more expedient ways of producing a race of what may be called human robots! In the meantime, surely, for most of us family will mean something.""

I met Mills in 1968 when we moved into a house on Rose Avenue "across the street" from the Everetts. We've been neighbors ever since.

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Mills was born on May 3, 1922 in a farm house near what is now North Carolina highway 32 near Suffolk, Virginia, Nansemond County. His father, Elisha Lee Everett died in 1924 so he never knew him. He had one brother, Elisha L. Everett, Jr. who died when Mills was 70, and one sister Ruth Elizabeth who died when Mills was 86. His grandmother had a 100-acre farm with a large house built in 1919 where he and his family lived. His grandmother also had a 394 acre farm at Wine Oak, South Quay. The area near South Quay (Quay meant "port") was the site where ammunition was brought up the river in the Revolutionary war . He never knew his grandfather, Elisha Lee Everett. In the depression years (1933) when Mills was a young boy, the family lost the land in a foreclosure. His grandmother, Ruth Elizabeth Howell Everett and family, could not raise the $5000 needed for the bank. Aunt Essey, (sister of Mother), Ruth, Mills and Lee stayed in Grandma's house in the depression years before it was lost. His parents and grandparents are burried in a cemetery at South Quay.

He remembered his aunt getting his help in planting. He planted and she followed. He remembers staying bent over in the hot field for hours and she would walk behind him, dropping in a cut of a sweet potato in a hole he had dug and stepping on the hole to cover the cut. To him there seemed unfair division of labor. There was no time for school athletics or similar activities. But he does remember going to the circus with his grandmother.

Mills worked on the farm, "Everyone worked together then." He did chores, fed chickens, mowed, and tended livestock. There were share-cropers that also worked then.

He lived with Uncle Putt for a year, working in the service station for him. He remembered the Ford cars with side doors that opened toward the front of the car (called "suicide doors" for if they were ever opened while driving, the wind would tear them off). The "revenuers" drove such cars. Mills found a pistol in the attic of the family farm house when they were leaving. It had a lever action beneath it to fix a bullet into place. It had probably been there since the Civil War. He put it on the back shelf at Uncle Putt's store. One day a man came in, saw it, and wanted to buy it. Mills hesitated but Uncle Putt said to sell it. So he did ... for 25 cents! He still regrets the sale as he watches Antique Road show on TV.

Mills broke his hip in an early morning fall in his back yard, October, 2013. He lay calling out for an hour and a half until he was heard by a neighbor and first-aid was called.

Part of the family tree: Mills'

Grandfather: Mills Everett Howell

Grandmother: Aseneth Cynthia Edney (Ruth Elizabeth's mother)
Mill's Father:Elisha L. Everett
       Mother: Ruth Elizabeth Howell

Mills' siblings:

Brother Elisha Lee Everett Jr. (Wife Virginia Featherstun)

Sister Ruth Elizabeth Everett (Married Spivey)

Mills went to school in Cypress Chapel, about 9 miles out of Suffolk. Then he went to Jefferson Elementary School and with age transferred to Suffolk High School. That school building has been renovated and converted into a museum and arts center with auditorium.

There were family hardships during the move from the farm and so Mills went to work with pride (saying now, "I don't want to brag about it") at age 15 as a "soda jerk." He did some curb service, then worked the counter in Russel's Drug Store, then did cooking and preparing sandwiches. That's where he did his first cooking and still prepares excellent dishes (I can attest to that from servings shared with us, the neighbor family). After school he would work from 3 to 11 p.m. and walk the 7 blocks home at night. Later, when he could drive, he would leave home at 7 am in a woody station wagon making dry-cleaning pickups and deliveries until 9 a.m. and then run to school ... often being late. He was scolded for lateness but he remembers Ms. Brinkley saying "I understand."

From an occupational guidance course late in high school, he got a job as a clerk in Ballard and Smith Department store. There after school he sold men's ware and shoes until he was drafted in World War II. He helped out briefly doing odd jobs with a nearby home demolition and repair. Within a few months of graduating he asked for but got no deferment. He needed one course to graduate. He was in the Army and they brought him back for his graduation in June of 1943. The high school gave him credit for the last course based on equivalent military service.

He hated to leave home for the war, like everyone else, and went to Camp Lee (now Ft. Lee). A week after being inducted he went home to Suffolk with a friend. He was in the Army for almost 4 years, November 1942 to late April, 1946.

After basic training he was sent to Ft. Washington, Maryland, and was put in food service for the officers' club. He worked with others in setting things up, peeling potatoes, checking and keeping stock, cleaning, and making salads ... for 400 people. (10 people to a table and 40 tables). He worked there for about 18 months, serving many Officers Candidate School soldiers.

Then with a few others he was sent to Ft. Lewis, Washington. Others in his group were sent to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. In Washington he went through re-training as a basic soldier and stayed there through Christmas, then was sent eastward to Atlanta, Georgia, to medical technician school at Ledderman General Hospital. He stayed in that school for three months.

Given a 15-day leave, he and a friend planned to hitchhike from Atlanta to Suffolk but soon gave that up and rode the train. They enjoyed a Pullman service.

Then he returned to Ft. Lewis, Washington, and stayed 30 days and was sent to Camp Hahn, California, at the edge of the desert outside of Redlands. There at March Field he saw his first P-38 fighter planes. At this Camp he was setting up special hospitals and preparing to go next to New Guinea.

Ordered to unpack, he was sent to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, (near Columbia and Frankfort, Kentucky). There he was a ward attendant in a general hospital with 48 wards. He remembered Dr. Midhoffer well. Mills was sent to school to further his abilities as a surgical technician. He was sent to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, Brook General Hospital. There he stayed for two months and returned to Atterbury where he, as a surgical technician and ward supervisor, assisted with "rounds" and scrubbed to assist in minor operations. Much of the work there was "reconstructive" after war wounds. He remembered an event (as if one from "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest") in which a friend and he took four paraplegia to Indianapolis to "to have their special day". He was pleased with the fun they all had. He remembered making a lot of good friends there, and that the nurses were friendly but "off-limits" to enlisted men.

He knew he would get out of the army in 1946 and went through a discharge medical screening. In that screening he was diagnosed with a hernia and one friendly doctor suggested it be done soon. He got the operation, was put in bed (as done then) for 15 days to heal, and then was put on a 30 day furlough. He returned from the furlough but found to his great disappointment that the doctor had departed the army. The discharge officer asked Mills "What do you want to do?"

"I'll go home," he said, and 5 days later he was out of the Army... a Sargent, Tech 4, April, 1946.

With early life centered in or near Suffolk, he frequently shares tid-bits about the place. Not sure if there is any family connection, there is a place out of Chuckatuck between Smithfield and Suffolk called Everet (with only one t); most other records have Everett with 2 ts. Records vary about the final "e."

When he got home he returned to sales work with Ballard and Smith and within a few days he went to register at Elon College. To his surprise, his sister had already enrolled him. Aided by the GI- Bill he went from September, 1946, to May, 1949, "straight-through", no summer breaks. He received an A.B. degree in chemistry, planning on medical school and on building on his past military experience. Still with financial problems, he worked in the Elon dining hall (family-style meals served and cleanup) and in a town drug counter as he had done in Suffolk. One summer he gained money by tearing down military buildings at Duke University to bring them back to Elon to be re-built.

After graduation he was employed by the Virginia Health Department for two years ($200.00 per month) as a Sanitation Inspector. His responsibilities were water quality sampling and restaurant inspection, etc. A friend working at the Arsenal called him about a job opening and he remembers coming to the Arsenal on a weekend, March 3, at 8 a.m. and was out of the interview by 8:15, hired. He immediately returned to Suffolk after giving a two-week notice to the Health Department.

Mills stayed with a cousin who lived in Christiansburg (March 1951) for three months, then moved to Blacksburg into the Whipple House on Turner Street. There he met Jim Dymock who became a long-time friend.

He worked for Hercules Co. at the Radford, Virginia, ammunition plant or Radford Arsenal where he was employed as a chemist. His first assignment in the chemistry laboratory was in testing water but the assignments diversified over 35 years within "the arsenal"

In December, 1953 he began dating Betty Jo Davis of Blacksburg and they were married, April 10, 1954. They remain married (2009).

He was assigned to Essential Materials lab working with the water plant. After 3 months there, he was transferred to the Internal Ballistics lab where tests were conducted on ammunition propellants for their burning rates, life service, tensile strength, heat of explosion and decomposition rates. In the lab he and others did tests of solid propellants and made test samples, cutting them to the proper sizes for tests. The materials, all machined there, were used in manufacturing munitions.

One test was the "closed bomb" used to determine pressure to be produced in a given gun barrel. He conducted such tests for 15 years.

He was then shifted to the ballistics and firing range, then to a section studying processing in different sections of the plant - bringing in new formulae, writing about procedures on "the lines," then testing and evaluating procedures, writing more reports, and then transferred back to Internal Ballistics.

Mills had little time for community activity for he was always "on call" and could be called at any time if there were challenges or accidents at the plant, and he supervised three shifts at the Arsenal. He recalls having helped get a sand lot or little league ball team started in Blacksburg.

He remembered many meetings and educational units and once took a 6-hour statistics course at Virginia Tech in a "Rad-Tech" cooperative venture.

His boss called and asked him to join in "hazard analysis" trying to find dangers and to investigate and make reports if there were accidental explosions. One piece of equipment had been out of commission for 3 years or working poorly. It was supposed to measure the moisture content of the sampled material. Staff had worked on it off and on. His former boss transferred him to work on it, "an automatic single base line" all on computers.

The general operations involved bringing in nitro-cellulose into the plant, blending it and then extruding it into a powder, then storing it. After study, Mills called in an engineer from the manufacturer who discovered the diodes had been taped down for transport to reduce shipping vibration. The problem was solved. He was told to write it up but on that day he said "I'm 63 and retiring; let one of my colleagues do it" and retired.

He then began teaching school as a substitute teacher at Shawsville (various subjects but through the years, band, math, algebra, social studies, and history ... the regular teachers had prepared lesson plans), Auburn, Riner, and Christiansburg Middle School. Needs became great at Christiansburg Middle School and Mr. Dobbins called him regularly at 6 am to request he substitute-teach for someone. He did that for 18-19 days a month for 12 years and stopped in 1999. There was a day when he realized that his macular degeneration had become too great. A teacher had asked that he check her roll while she was away. He tried to do so but could not see the names on the list and asked a front-row girl to call them out ... and he never went back.

Betty Jo took care of Betty's dad for 3 years. Later she worked as a legal secretary for Jim Hutton. Betty's father is buried in Bonsack, Glade Creek cemetery, with others of the Davis family.

Mills has served the Lutheran Church of Blacksburg in many roles. He was once Chairman of the Finance Committee and Financial Secretary of the church, later served on the Church Council, and now (2009) serves as one of three Trustees.

Another part of the family tree ...

Mills Robert Everett 5-3-1922
Wife Betty Jo Davis Everett 5-5-1931

  Stephen Douglas Everett 3/12/55
David Lee Everett 4/2/57
Michael Joseph Everett 9/3/60
Julia Alison Everett 6/20/67

Mills and Betty Jo have three grandchildren (2009) (Jessie, Nick, and Allie) and 2 great grandchildren (Hayden and Audrey).

Affected in many ways by the depression that occurred in his early years, Mills seems pleased now that the current depression has not hurt him or his family badly, though he knows of those who have been hurt.

Robert H. Giles, Jr. with the editorial assistance of Betty Jo Everett and Mary Wilson Giles.

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September 28, 2009