Peggy Mills has played a central role in OKWU’s Student Development department since her arrival nearly 24 years ago. Moreover, she worked at the school before it was even located in Bartlesville — back when it was still in central Kansas as Miltonvale Wesleyan College. As the Administrative Assistant, Peggy has been involved in countless changes throughout the past two and a half decades, and has now worked for four different Vice Presidents of Student Development. She has a passion for dancing, costumes, thrift stores, and OKWU.
Peggy will be retiring in July, and recently, we had the chance to get to know her better. She speaks of Oklahoma Wesleyan as, “the body of Christ and a tremendous support system for me,” throughout some of the most difficult seasons of her life.
Eagle: Where were you born and raised?
Peggy: Rapid City, South Dakota.
Eagle: What did your parents do?
Peggy: My dad was a carpenter and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. Raised six kids.
Eagle: That sounds like Jesus’ family. You’re so Christlike!
Peggy: (laughing) A long way from that. Our family has never been accused of that.
Eagle: How did you get involved in Wesleyan higher education?
Peggy: Well, [my husband] Dean and I started going together in high school, and he went to Wesleyan Church. I went to Evangelical Free. Then when we were married, we went to Miltonvale, and I became a Wesleyan then. Then I worked at the college [Miltonvale Wesleyan College, one of the many former names of Oklahoma Wesleyan University] while he was in school.
Eagle: What was Dean studying?
Peggy: Theology. He got his degree to become a theolog. That’s what they used to call them.
Eagle: That just makes me picture a little log with round glasses and a cross necklace.
Peggy: NO, no, no, no! No necklaces! That’s why we went to California!
Eagle: Oh, so you went to California after that?
Peggy: Yes, because if we would have gone back to South Dakota, we would have had to take our wedding rings off to be in the church.
Eagle: Wait. Why is that?
Peggy: Because they didn’t believe in jewelry! No sleeveless clothes, no makeup, no jewelry, and so to pastor at a church in South Dakota, we’d have to take our wedding rings off.
Eagle: And that’s why you decided not to go back?
Peggy: Yeah! And our friends had already split to California, and that was the “worldly” conference out there . . . they let us wear our wedding rings out there and be a Wesleyan Church pastor!
Eagle: I had no idea so much had changed. No dancing, no movies, no cards . . . those are the rules I knew about!
Peggy: Oh, yeah. When Dean graduated and around the time Dr. Fullingim went to school, they got intercollegiate sports! Before that, it was just intramurals, because you couldn’t wear shorts! The girls had to wear dresses and the guys had to wear long pants, and so so you couldn’t play other schools. So then, they had soccer at Miltonvale and they got to wear shorts! And of course, I didn’t grow up Wesleyan, so these rules were all very foreign to me!
Eagle: Sure! You probably wanted to wear your jewelry.
Peggy: I did! And makeup! And I wanted to dance!
Eagle: Don’t we all?
Peggy: Anyway, Dean graduated from Miltonvale in 1966. Then we moved to California and lived there for 25 years. Our sons, Eric and Chad were born and raised there.
Eagle: Was Dean pastoring out there?
Peggy: Dean was the youth pastor at Whittier Wesleyan for a couple years. During that time, California had a teacher shortage, so he went back to school on a grant from USC and got his teaching credentials. He taught school for 23 years.
Eagle: What did he teach?
Peggy: He started out teaching elementary, and then he got his dream job teaching wood shop and industrial arts.
Eagle: How did you end up back in the midwest?
Peggy: Our son was going to school here, and because of Dean’s respiratory problems having to do with sawdust and smog, we moved to Bartlesville in 1990.
Eagle: So by that time it was Bartlesville Wesleyan College?
Peggy: Correct. I started working here the first day of RA training in the fall of 1991. I came to work and all the rest of the staff left with the RAs to the retreat, and I didn’t even know how to answer the phone or do anything! It was like, “Hey! It’s your first day at work! We’re all going to leave! Just answer the phone and take over.”
Eagle: What was your position?
Peggy: Same as I am now! Assistant to the Dean of Students or something like that. I’ve been an Administrative Assistant, an Office Manager, an Events Coordinator, Summer Conference Coordinator . . . lots of things.
Eagle: What do you love most about the Student Development staff?
Peggy: Well, first of all I love Student Development because it is everything outside of the classroom. It’s all the fun parts of college. I love the interaction with students over the years, and I especially, being here this long, I love hearing back from students. It’s very neat to hear about students who are missionaries all around the world or making a difference in some other way. It’s been fun being a little part of that, even if it’s as small as making them a student ID!
Eagle: And what do you love most about the Student Development staff?
Peggy: I have a very fun staff. I enjoy being around younger people because they’re a lot more fun than other 70-year-olds. I truly enjoy the creativity and the camaraderie. I feel like working with a younger staff keeps me young.
Eagle: It has been rumored that Ben Rotz had a dream of you smoking a cigarette in the Rose Garden. Can you confirm or deny that these unconscious allegations could have a grain of truth?
Peggy: (laughing) There is not a grain of truth in that! I maybe have snuck a couple of puffs of cigarettes as a child, but I’ve never smoked for real. And if I was gonna try it, I wouldn’t do it in the Rose Garden! I’d be hidden away someplace. I’m too old to start now.
Eagle: What has been your most embarrassing moment while working with Kyle White?
Peggy: The famous story is when I was holding a paper for him to sign, and I blew a piece of string off of his hand — because I didn’t dare touch him. He was on the phone and I just wanted to get this string off without interrupting, so I just blew it off. He freaked out. He had to hang up the phone.
Eagle: What is your favorite event in OKWU history?
Peggy: Probably the biggest one I did was when we had a fundraiser kickoff dinner for building the chapel. It was in the gym and I put wire across and draped fabric from the ceiling so that it didn’t look like a gym, and so that was probably the biggest one. I had a small budget to work on, but Dean always cut out centerpieces for me. My favorite thing to do, though, is Famous Duos. Students are just so creative, and it’s a fun thing.
Eagle: I think we may actually have some photo evidence of you at Famous Duos. Maybe some Duck Dynasty costumes? You do have quite the extensive collection of hats and wigs and costumes. How did that get started?
Peggy: I do! I keep a costume closet for various things and I’ve just collected them over the years. Now my grandkids have a good time with them. I have so many ugly Christmas sweaters upstairs.
Eagle: How have you enjoyed being Lower Scott Floor Mom this year?
Peggy: Yes, my son and daughter-in-law and grandkids have adopted Lower Scott and we try to make them some little treats once a month! Eric, my son that moved here, lived in Scott Hall. And so, this summer, we met Juan [the RA] and his family. Eric was very impressed with him and decided to sponsor their floor.
Eagle: Throughout all of the changes in leadership and the campus, what has remained constant?
Peggy: I think the biggest consistency is that it’s a place that students come and lives are changed. It may look different now, but just last week when Alex Himaya came and gave an invitation in chapel for students to raise their hands and give their lives to the Lord, I was so blessed by that. Somebody might come and look at the campus and think it’s changed and it’s different, and that’s true. But the Holy Spirit is still here and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.
Eagle: What impact has OKWU had on your family?
Peggy: Our son, Eric, came here. We sent him here as a freshman because we believed in Miltonvale Wesleyan and he had cousins who were here. We believed in Christian education. We wanted him to come here, and it was definitely a life changing experience for him after a while. He came to play soccer, finished the season, and stopped going to class. He got one credit for soccer, loaded his stuff, and came home for Christmas. Somehow in that process, he decided he needed to come back. He came back and ended up graduating here with a ministry degree, and he’s been in full-time ministry ever since.
Eagle: Looking toward retirement, what are you most excited about?
Peggy: Well, the main reason I’m doing this is to spend time with my mom. She’s 93 years old and still in good health. I plan to spend all of July and the beginning of August with her, and I’ll get to go to our family reunion picnic that I haven’t been to in years. I want to do this now because I want to spend time with her doing the things we talk about. That’s my main motivation. And to be able to spend time with grandkids!
Eagle: What is the greatest source of joy in your life?
Peggy: Well, my six grandchildren bring me the greatest joy. The months after Dean passed away were very quiet and very lonely until Eric and his family moved here. Chad and his family are close by in Wagoner. I love my grandkids!
Eagle: Is it true that you have a bit of a Goodwill addiction?
Peggy: Oh, not just Goodwill! Any thrift store! For years when we would come home from church on Sunday, Dean would take a nap and I would go to Goodwill. I am possibly a little bit addicted to thrift store shopping. I have very few things — I could count them on one hand — that I haven’t bought at a thrift store. I don’t shop at malls. I just don’t. I love the challenge of the hunt. And plus, I’m cheap!
Eagle: What has been your most memorable experience on the job?
Peggy: There’s a story, but it’s complicated, and you just had to be there. I couldn’t even begin to tell you. But whenever I think of the quote, “Nice shoes, Peggy MIlls!” I just die laughing.
Eagle: How do you find peace and rest in the midst of the chaos of life?
Peggy: In this year and a half or so after Dean passed away, I guess the peace that I get is just relying on God’s promises. The things that He promises even if I don’t feel it that day, or it feels scary or whatever, I just continue to go back to God’s promises. He’ll never leave me or forsake me. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. He’ll supply all my needs just like He’s always done. Even if I don’t feel like it, I still know that His promises never change.
Eagle: What advice do you have for incoming freshmen?
Peggy: Regardless of what you’ve done or what kind of student you’ve been or choices you’ve made, you can come here and have a fresh new start. People don’t know your past. You have a chance to start over and all the support in the world if you choose to use it. Get out of your room, put your electronics away, socialize, ask for help if you need it — there’s tutors and mentors and spiritual help if you need it. You can grow from wherever you are, or you can really just start over and go a completely different direction.
The Eagle wishes Peggy a relaxing and purposeful retirement filled with grandkids, thrift stores, and costumes. Oklahoma Wesleyan thanks her for her faithful service to the Lord and to the Eagle family.
All photos courtesy of Peggy Mills.