Robert P. Mills was the first of the original five Mills brothers to come into this valley, followed by Joe, Walt, Wade, Charlie and their mother. R. P. worked in Montrose for a few years before going to Olathe where, in 1894, he and Charlie Christie bought out the General Merchandise Store on the north side of town.
Originally the store was built and operated by W. O. Hersum, one of the first to arrive in what was dubbed “Colorow.” R. P.’s brother Walt joined him to form R. P. Mills and Company.
In 1897, R.P. built the first building to be erected on what is now Main Street, causing the town to move from the vicinity of the railroad stockyards. He became the sole owner of the business in the town that would later bear the name, “Olathe.”
On December 4, 1909, R. P. and his wife Zetta Gaines Mills, became the proud parents of Robert P., Jr., who soon became known as Bobby, then Bob as he grew and eventually followed in his father’s footsteps.
Bob attended grade school in the old Chimney Hall at the west end of Main; a building which is still being used today as the Olathe Community Center. He graduated from Olathe High School where he was an avid baseball player which earned him a full scholarship to the University of Colorado in Boulder where he was a four-year member of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, graduating with a business degree.
Bob married Alice Mae Moynihan, daughter of C. J. and Marguerite (Catlin) Moynihan in 1935, at her parents’ residence at 802 Main Street in Montrose (where Crippin Funeral Home is today.) They had two daughters, Marilyn and Karen.
Except for time served in the U. S. Marine Corps during World War II, Bob and Alice lived their lives in Olathe. When the popular Olathe Theater went in next door, Mills store became one of the gathering places for farmers, friends and neighbors on Friday and Saturday movie nights.
During the tough times of the Great Depression, Mills was fondly remembered for extending credit to many who could not pay their bills until their crops were harvested. Many of the children recall that their parents were given a sack of candy for the kids when they paid their tab.
Bob was fortunate to grow up with uncles and cousins who were very engrossed in baseball. R. P. Mills, Sr. bought land, built a baseball field and donated it to the community. Bob and several family members were a part of the 1928 Western Division baseball championship team. During his baseball days, Bob played catcher and shortstop, once earning the Most Valuable Player award.
With his constant, long-time presence on Main Street, plus his leadership qualities, Mills was always considered a community leader. A tall, handsome dignified man of stature, he was known for being kind to everyone. He served on the Olathe Fire Department and School Board and in later years, coached Little League baseball.
Mills sold his store in the late 1960s. He then was able to pursue his hobbies of gardening, woodworking and especially golf.
Alice passed away in 1974; Bob on April 22, 2008 at the age of 98.
He was interred in the Montrose Cedar Cemetery.
When the store was scheduled for demolition in order to make way for a new store, this poem was written as a “Tribute to Mills Store.” It was saved in Bob’s daughter’s scrapbook, but the author was not named, nor was the date.
An old landmark in our home town
is Mills Store, about to be torn down.
The building shows signs of years:
it’s seen sadness, happiness and even tears.
The shelves on the wall were always neatly stacked,
as was the storeroom in the back.
The floors are old and show signs of time,
where many a man toiled to make a dime.
The clerks most always greeted you with a smile.
They made you want to stay a while.
Young and old feet trodded through the store,
some we know, 50 years or more.
With regret, we say good-bye to Mills Store
as we slowly walk out the squeaky door.
Marilyn Cox, a native of Montrose County, grew up on a farm and was always surrounded by countless family members who instilled the love of family and history. She retired from the Montrose County School District and, for 21 years, served as curator of the Montrose County Historical Museum.