The Rev. Everett Mills, who founded the award-winning Mountain Mentors interfaith program and pastored United Methodist churches in Grand Rapids, Weston, Hoytville, Toledo, and suburban Holland, died yesterday in St. Luke's Hospital.
He was 79 and suffered a heart attack yesterday, his son Matthew said. He had been in poor health for months after suffering a stroke and had moved from his Toledo home to Lutheran Village at Wolf Creek.
Mr. Mills founded Mountain Mentors, which pairs local adults with juvenile offenders for a one-week backpacking trip in New Hampshire and continued mentorship, with private funds in 1984.
In its first decade, juvenile authorities assigned about 125 youngsters ages 12 to 18 to Mountain Mentors. Since then, hundreds more have participated in the program that he described as combining the physicalness of Outward Bound with the helping hand of Big Brothers-Big Sisters.
That's a credit to Mr. Mills' dedication and persistence, said Andy Devine, a retired Lucas County Juvenile Court judge who was an early Mountain Mentors board member and convinced the juvenile probation department to help fund the organization.
"He was the most dynamic and yet the most humble guy it seems I've ever run into," Mr. Devine said.
Mr. Mills, who had grown up near New Hampshire's White Mountains, thought young people who had never been outside their Toledo neighborhood could benefit from a 70-mile hike and some steep climbs there with adult mentors who promised to work with them for a year.
"The hard times are what work for us: the rain, the mud, the steep climb," Mr. Mills told The Blade in 1994.
Mr. Mills' work with Mountain Mentors was purely from the heart, according to one of the founding board members, Alan Konop, a Toledo attorney.
"He was probably one of the most genuine, humane individuals I've ever met," Mr. Konop said.
Mountain Mentors was recognized in 1987 by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges as one of the most innovative alternative-to-incarceration programs in the country.
At that time Mr. Mills was pastor of the former Euclid United Methodist Church, one of many small area United Methodist congregations that he pastored.
His first was Holland United Methodist in the early 1970s. Later in the 1970s he simultaneously led two northwestern Wood County churches: Calvary United Methodist in Grand Rapids and Weston United Methodist in Weston.
In the early 1980s he was at Hoytville United Methodist in southwestern Wood County and later in that decade he was at Euclid on Main Street in East Toledo.
His last church in the 1990s was what was then Somerset United Methodist Church on Airport Highway. It is now New Hope United Methodist Church.
Preaching was a second career that Mr. Mills entered into at age 40. For years he had managed his family's cardboard container manufacturing plant, called Mills Industries, in Manchester, N.H., working with his father, for whom he is named.
"I was divinely called, I'm sure," Mr. Mills told The Blade in 1994, adding that he had not been a churchgoer earlier.
Mr. Mills was the second of four children born to Everett and Etta Mills. He was born in Haverhill, Mass., and graduated from Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H. He was in the military after World War II and enjoyed reading history of that era for the rest of his life.
In recent years, he was a member of Unity United Methodist Church.
Surviving are his sons, Charles and Matthew; daughters Kathleen Kelly, Penny Swinehagen, and Sally Taube; brother, Bert; sister, Patty Raches, and 10 grandchildren.
The body will be in Wright Funeral Home, Grand Rapids, for visitation from 2-4 and 6-9 p.m. Monday. Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Calvary United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids.
The family suggests tributes to Mountain Mentors.