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Jack Mills leaves decades of community service

September 14, 2011

One of the biggest champions of this area's historical and cultural treasures was lost Monday when Jack Mills, longtime Parkdale resident, died at the age of 80.

John Ainsworth "Jack" Mills can be credited with helping bring Timberline Lodge back to its former glory, as well as the Mount Hood Railroad and sections of the Historic Columbia River Highway; he also contributed greatly to the new Columbia Center for the Arts and has served on numerous boards and committees of other arts concerns in Hood River and Portland.

Mills and his wife, Kate, moved to Parkdale in the mid-1970s after his nearly 20-year career in banking in Portland, looking for a more relaxed way of life. They built a house on their 250 acres and bought the Mt. Hood Country Store, which they soon restored, retaining a rustic feel.

His new, "relaxed" life included a continuation of the active community involvement he had practiced in the preceding 15 or 20 years in Portland, which had included stints as officer on the boards or committees of at least 20 different organizations, including the American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter, Governor's Commission on Youth, United Way Fund Campaign, Urban League of Greater Portland, Northwest Outward Bound School, and many others.

Once he relocated to the Upper Valley he became active on boards or committees for Hood River County Economic Development Study, City of Hood River Urban Renewal Project, Hood River Conservation Project and Old Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway.

He also served as president or director of business concerns such as his Mt. Hood Country Store, Mt. Hood Railroad Company, Friends of Timberline, Full Sail Brewing Company, Mt. Hood Brewing Company, and Dee Forest Products Inc.

And in his "spare time," he served on the Hood River County Board of Commissioners from 1984-90. Other political involvements included chairing the campaigns of Norma Paulus and Sen. Bob Packwood and the boards of other efforts to help schools and other causes.

In 1987, Mills purchased the Mount Hood Railroad from Union Pacific, with a vision of continuing the freight service that had been provided for the past 81 years, and resuming passenger service; this time geared as a tourist attraction instead of as the basic link between communities.

He felt tourism was important to the future success of the Hood River Valley, but not at the expense of the timber and agriculture industries. He wrote in the News' 1992 Panorama edition:

"One thing is certain. If the forest products and agricultural industries were to disappear, there would be no tourist industry, because the first two, and the land upon which they thrive, are what the tourists come to see.

"The three legs of our economic stool - timber, agriculture and tourism - are what balance the livability of Hood River County. The positive energizing of those three segments will make our county No. 1 long before the year 2007."

Jack and Kate Mills did a bit of touristing themselves, including trips in the 1980s to China, Australia and Africa, after which Jack shared their experiences with readers of the News.

In addition to his wife, Katherine Leadbetter Mills, Jack is survived by four sons: John, Michael, Lewis and Edward.

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