'Mr. Lion' gets a roar of support

The Baltimore Sun

They call him "Mr. Lion of Westminster."

Now, Russell Mills Jr. has another title: Maryland's Most Beautiful People Volunteer for Carroll County.

Mills was chosen out of 26 nominees for the annual honor at an awards ceremony at the new North Carroll Senior and Community Center.

A selection committee of seven reads all of the nominations, rates them and picks one person to represent the county at the state banquet in November, said Shawn Reese, Department of Citizen Services administrative office associate.

"He was really surprised," Reese said. "When giving his little speech, he said 'You are all good people. Everyone deserves this award.' He's just a really, really nice person."

Next month will mark 31 years as a Westminster Lion for Mills. He has been president twice, vice president, fundraiser committee chair, district chair, board member, youth chair, and this year, zone chair, responsible for circulating news to six regional clubs.

Before joining the Lions Club, Mills, 70, helped his four sons who were Boy Scouts. Two became Eagle Scouts, and two are Life Scouts.

"Lionism is his life," said his wife, Barbara. "He belongs to nothing else. He wouldn't join the Lions until the boys were done with Scouts."

Barbara Mills added that her husband also was awarded the Melvin Jones Fellowship in 2004, the Lions International's highest award for community service, and he also has been club Lion of the Year twice.

It's clear when talking to Mills that bringing pleasure to others motivates him.

His fundraising work has earned thousands of dollars for medical equipment for those in need, scholarships, vision research, preschool eye screenings and donations to Carroll Hospital Center.

"I got two foreign exchange students from Italy and found host families for them while they were here," Mills said. "That's a big thrill, getting them over here, finding them housing and making sure they have a good time."

As youth chair, he started a junior Lions club, the Leos, at Winters Mill High School in 2003.

"We also make donations to blind kids, get them scholarships for camps -- that's all part of your responsibility," Mills said.

Ron Brewer, a fellow Lion who nominated Mills, said, "He does everything and anything for the Westminster club and any other club he can help out.

"He's the kind of guy when he's out to do something, he really works hard at it and goes above and beyond to help the club."

Brewer also told a story of how Mills helped a 92-year-old neighbor who had no family in the area.

"The guy had health problems but still tried to mow his grass, and Russell wouldn't let him. He cut his grass for him," Brewer said. "One day Russell went over there and found the man had fallen, and he called the ambulance and got him to the hospital."

Mills said he still helps the neighbor, now in a nursing home, by visiting him and taking him his mail and newspapers. "They're working toward getting him in assisted living," Mills said.

Through the years, Mills also has been active in Ascension Episcopal Church, on boards and committees, including property and building.

After retiring 10 years ago from CSX Railroad as a building and bridge foreman, Mills threw himself into volunteerism and gardening.

"He's just a great guy," said Barbara Mills. "We've been married 49 years, and I wouldn't trade it. He built our home -- this is where we raised our six children. He likes flowers, he raises just gorgeous flowers, anywhere you can plant a flower."

"He has to stay busy," she said. "Right now he's selling tickets to the harvest ball for the Bureau of Aging."


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