In Memoriam: Don Mills

Don Mills 1965 yearbook-web.jpg 

"He has nurtured the principles of
our founders and has allowed them
to thrive."
- Burgundy Voices, Spring 1986 

From 1963 to 1986, Don Mills (1921-2014) served as Burgundy's Director -- a position we today call the Head of School. He oversaw literal growth, with the addition of the Loft, and a new amphitheater, pool, and barnyard, as well as the West Virginia Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies at Cooper's Cove. He valued and enhanced connection within the Burgundy community by rethinking the grade groupings and changing the school's administrative structure. In addition, Don led Burgundy during the school's 40th anniversary celebration. As a Burgundy Voices article on his retirement in 1986 asserted, "We will miss him but he will not really be gone, for what he gave to us we'll have forever."

Burgundy held a memorial reception and tree dedication on Saturday, October 18, 2014.

- See photos from the event
- Review the memorial program
- Read memories submitted by those who knew Don
- Share your own memories 


    40th anniversary-web.jpgDon, center, celebrates Burgundy's 40th anniversary. 
    Don and friends-web.jpgDon, second from left, with friends and former Burgundy colleagues.


    Memorial Gifts

    Burgundy's Board of Trustees established the Don Mills Scholarship Fund in 1985, as Don prepared to retire, in recognition of his decades of service to Burgundy and its students. Gifts to the fund in Don's memory are welcome. Visit Burgundy's Online Payment Form and in the Gift Information section designate your gift as "Other" and type "Don Mills Scholarship Fund" when the Please Specify field appears (see example below). 



    Share your memories of Don Mills by emailing

    Rosemary Taft Stokes, former faculty:
         It was a lucky day for me that Don Mills was looking for a British Primary School teacher to help set up Open Classrooms in what was then the Primary Block. It was an exciting time with first through third graders learning together, and teachers working as a team. Don was an inspiring leader who trusted his teachers to bring out the best in our students. Whenever we had a new idea he encouraged us to go for it.
         Above all, Don was a man who loved his school and knew every child in it. Children felt they could go to him if they needed to talk over a problem or share an achievement.
         I hope he knew how much he meant to me and so many others. I will always remember him.

    Melinda Barnhart, former administrator:
         I worked for Don at the end of his term at Burgundy in 1985 and 1986 as director of admissions. He was a wonderful man and tried to convince me to like science. He told me science was everywhere, even in cooking and baking. I was not convinced!

    Jeff Keeler, Burgundy class of 1965:
         Simply put, Don Mills saved my life. There was one opening for the 7th grade available …. There were three other candidates applying for that one opening. They were all way ahead of me academically. More qualified in that way for sure. I had just come from 4 years at a very academically left brained, strict all boys school nearby. I failed 6th grade there. F’s all the way down ’cept for athletics. I was really messed up about this. I tried to do well but the educational format there, I guess finally got to me and I basically shut down. My parents were upset as to where to go from there. Fortunately, they had a friend who told them about Burgundy and a meeting was set with Don Mills. My first interview. I was pretty nervous ... I remember Don was so warm an inviting and he met me on my level. It was my first step in deprogramming. One of many to come. Long story short, though I tested academically lower than the others, Don sensed something about me in that he felt there was a good chance I could really succeed and resonate with the Burgundy hands-on, organic approach. And he was right! And I am forever grateful.
         Seventh grade with the awesome John Trott introduced me to the study of birds and I became absolutely consumed. Bird banding was the same way. The first summer I was a camper at the Cold Stream Lodge Camp. The second summer I went as banding assistant, kind of counselor status. Next year was the incredible move to Coopers Cove. The following year I was offered head bander. It was probably the most meaningful and fun time of my life. From trying to learn to stop calling every adult male at Burgundy "Sir" (John Trott finally broke me of that habit), and the wonderful birds to counselor at the Wildlife Camp. Don Mills opened that door for me. He opened the door where I could flourish and engage my true calling. As with so many who attended Burgundy I became (and still am) passionate about helping to make this world become a better more expansive experience. Burgundy taught me to appreciate and actively care for the natural world as well as my fellow human beings. Don Mills walked the talk on that. Its a path he played a huge part in introducing me on a " few" years back. Without a doubt I will always be so grateful, beyond words, for my involvement with so beautiful a spirit.

    Manuel Lerdau, former faculty:
         My last memory of Don is of our sitting on the fishing dock of the pond at the Cove in the late summer of 1982, just after camp ended. That summer had been a tough one for many of us at Wildlife Camp. Don seemed remarkably unworried. He talked with me about the beginning of camp and how he had watched it grow and change. He asked me many questions about how I thought camp should be. Heady stuff for a kid heading off to college. At the end of the conversation he asked me if I wanted to be the Assistant Director next summer. I said that I was interested but that I wondered who would be the Director. He said he didn't know for sure. He told me he'd hire someone I could get along with and who saw camp pretty much the same way I did, but not totally the same. I agreed and heard a short while later that Vini Schoene would be the new Director. He couldn't have chosen a better Director, but I never did ask him what he was thinking when he decided to have a 23-year-old and a 19-year-old running BCWS.  And what were those parents thinking who entrusted their kids to us? Many of them were trusting Don. I also never thanked him for the opportunity of a lifetime. I think he gave many people such opportunities.

    Virginia Woodhead, former faculty:
         Don was one of the gentlest men I have ever known. His presence created a calm, safe feeling on campus during the years I was co-teaching, 1979-83.