2017 Black Hills Stock Show Silver Spur Hall of Fame: Bob Mills
Bob Mills, of Gordon, Nebraska, was sure the Black Hills Stock Show had run out of people eligible for the Silver Spur Hall of Fame when they told him he is earning the honor. He is, in fact, being inducted this year.
“It’s a huge honor. I couldn’t believe it. It’s amazing,” Mills said. “I guess it didn’t ever think of it as work, because I’ve enjoyed [volunteering]. It was a shock and I very much appreciate it.”
A native of Gordon, Mills and his family lived for some time in Arizona, before returning home again.
“We actually lived down in Phoenix, Arizona, and would come back [to Gordon] for three months out of the year,” he said. “When I was 10 and my dad died, we moved back permanently, which we were going to anyhow. I was born and raised in Gordon on my grandpa’s place, northeast of Gordon.”
Mills and Tina have been married since 1983 and they had their only child, Bailey, in 1989.
“Tina and I actually grew up a couple miles apart. She didn’t much care for me growing up. My cousin kind of got us together one time and I guess that was it,” he said. “When we had Bailey, Tina’s job was a lot tougher because she had to get me raised and Bailey. She got Bailey taken care of.”
Mills has worked as a supervisor for the State of Nebraska Highway Department since 1991, and before that he worked for a veterinarian.
“I went to school for a year, then came back and worked for Eldon Krebs, then worked for my uncle, and worked for a vet and day worked,” he said. “Then the opening opened up with the state. Tina said there’s an opening, and I said, ‘Shoot, I don’t want to do that.’ She went down, got the application, filled it out and took it back. I did go for my own interview, I was an hour late because I was still working for the vet and we were out doing a cesarean or something. I got the job and not quite two years later, I was supervisor, so it’s been pretty good.”
Mills is a two-time cancer survivor.
“The first year I had cancer was 1999. It came back in 2013. I had a stem cell transplant right after the stock show in 2013,” he said. He says that he thinks he has won the battle against cancer.
Black Hills Stock Show & Central States Fair
Social media has changed how producers interact with the consumer, and before internet, email, Facebook and free long distance, events like BHSS and CSF were necessary for reaching consumers.
Mills has early memories of attending Black Hills Stock Show and Central States Fair to show cattle.
“I can remember coming up here to Central States and that’s back when them barns was 50 to 60 Shorthorns and Angus were full, and they’d rotate in and out,” he said. “Back then, that was their form of advertising and how they met people, so going to state fairs was more critical. We didn’t have quite the networking they have now. I can remember coming up here. I was probably 6 or 7 when we’d come up and dad would show Shorthorns up here.”
After Mills’ father passed away, other men in his life took him to BHSS and CSF.
“I suppose the first time I actually went on the road with somebody else, I was 14 and that was here to CSF with a guy by the name of Sam Moore. Coming through the gates here at Central States Fair, I was a little 14-year-old snot-nosed kid and I was sitting in the middle of three us in the front of a single cab pickup. We’d pull up to the gate and the guy that was running the gate visited with Sam for quite a while and Sam visited with him. As we pulled away, Sam looked over at me, he said, “I guarantee ya, he’s probably got one job here, you treat him with respect, he’ll treat you with respect.’ That meant a lot to me.”
“We showed Herefords,” Mills said. “I suppose my grandpa, my uncle, Sam, and my mom were probably the ones that were pretty much the ones who taught me what I know. You know over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some good people, like the ones I just mentioned, and Eldon Krebs. With my grandpa, he had taught me, if you’re going to do it, do it right or don’t do it at all. The other big one that I’ve always tried to live by, do it right and you’ve got to work at it. You don’t just get ahead by doing it, just goes hand in hand.”
Wintery weather fills Mills’ memories of days spent at BHSS.
“I’ve been coming up to BHSS for a lot of years. The main thing I remember, it was cold,” he said of the days when it still took place at the Central States Fairgrounds. “For some reason I want to say, was there a wash rack in the barn? I remember going across to the other one when it was cold out. Maybe we just snuck over someplace we weren’t supposed to go instead of going outside.”
Mills remembers when BHSS moved to the Civic Center.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize how nice that is. I know not everybody stays at the Holiday Inn, but to have a facility that’s there and being able to stay right close by, especially if you’re up for all week, it just simplifies things a lot,” he said. “The people that put it on, y’all are very good to us. A lot of people that are first-time being there and I guess I’ve said it all along, it’s just the atmosphere, it’s laid back, nobody gets too wound up about things. I always tell people, it’s our vacation before we go home and start calving.”
As a producer, BHSS offers opportunities for seedstock and commercial producers.
“It’s kind of a two-fold deal. There’s a chance to meet possible customers and see old customers. There are some people you see once a year and have a chance to visit with,” Mills said. “Any cattle show is that way too. There’s a chance to see what genetics are working and what might work for your program. At BHSS, there’s a lot of herd prospects there, not just for the commercial man, but for the commercial man and purebred breeder that they’ll take home and use as a herd sire. That says quite a bit for BHSS. There’s sure enough quality. The Supreme Bull deal’s a magnificent program.”
Mills has served on the BHSS Livestock Committee, for about 15 years, give or take. “The biggest accomplishments from the livestock committee perspective is probably the futurity, tying CSF and BHSS. The Gold Rush Futurity, the heifer deal, has been a real good program as far as trying to get the kids more involved with the cattle that are sold,” he said. “I think quality has gotten a lot better over the years. I think bringing the good ones has, over time, sorted itself out; it doesn’t take long for people to realize, if you don’t bring something good, you’re going to have a hard time moving them and making the connections you need to make. I think too, the Supreme Bull deal has always been there, but I think that has gotten more of something that the consignors are really shooting for, which has upped the quality of the whole deal. They know what kind of caliber to bring and it’s just not the first one through the gate.”
Mills and his wife Tina raise short horns and Simmentals, and a few club calves.
“We’re trying to get a good commercial herd built up and gearing maybe more toward the replacement heifer deal, and not so much the club calf deal,” he said. “We still have some good show prospects.”
Bailey, Mills’ daughter, followed in her dad’s footsteps, even winning the Central States Fair Open Youth Beef Show Taylor Thomas Memorial, Overall Showman award so many times that a rule was established limiting competitors to one winning entry.
“Bailey started as soon as you could start in 4-H with stocker feeders and sheep. After that she had a barn full,” Mills said.
Mills values the opportunity for youth to show cattle for the good qualities it builds.
“We were up here at Western Junior Livestock Show and Bailey was 14. The old boy who used to have the Sullivan trailer and was from Colorado, Bailey went over and was visiting with him for quite a while,” Mills said. “I went over and talked to him later and he said, ‘Now how old is she?’ I said 14, he said ‘No, can’t be.’ I think the kids that get involved in it, they learn responsibility, they get out, they meet other people. Whether it’s showing, judging contest, all that stuff, they have the opportunity to mingle with people of their own likes and others. We’d be at state fairs, where you get a lot of city traffic and they would ask them questions and she’d visit with them. That’s a big plus, that just helps them go on as they do other things. They get used to people and that type of thing, and the responsibility and learning, thats a huge part of it.”
Mills has been involved in other organizations, including being the Livestock Superintendent at Nebraska State Fair, on the Sheridan County Fair Board for 23 years, and serving a couple terms of 4-H Extension Council, he said.
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A pasture or lot with plenty of grass or bedding and windbreak is important when calving in the cold.