The Black River Falls Area Foundation was officially launched in 1986 with a purpose of enhancing the quality of life in its service area. Ten years later, Friends of the Foundation was established. . . Last year, Friends generously contributed $27,925 in donations.
Select From Below to See Awardees
Each year at the Friends Luncheon the Foundation honors the recipient of the “Foundation Special Person Award”
Previous “Special People” Award Recipients:
2015: Bee Herzberg
2016: Peter & Jone Hoffman
2017: Bill Millis
Honored at the 2017 Friends Luncheon
Bill Millis – Special Person Award Recipient
Millis Family in 2014
Back Row, left to right: David, Mike, Dan, Paul, Steve;
Front Row, left to right: Kari Pearson, Bill, Bev, and Kathy Powell.
Bill Millis’s roots are deeply embedded in Jackson County. Bill’s grandfather, Jake Millis, was born in 1877 to pioneer parents, near Morrison Creek. Jake passed on his entrepreneurial drive to his children and grandchildren. Jake’s foresight in developing a transport industry paved the way for his sons and for his grandchildren.
Bill’s father, Bud Millis, grew up in the Shamrock area. He assisted in the operation of his family’s Shamrock General Store. From 1939 to 1944, Bud operated Millis Recreation in Black River Falls, which was a bowling alley owned by his father, Jake. Over the years, Bud was involved in many different business ventures, including dealerships for both Studebaker and Ford, and of course the transport industry.
Millis Transfer as we know it today originally started after prohibition when Jake and his son, Ray, acquired the Old Style distributorship in Black River Falls. Millis Bros. Transfer hauled beer from La Crosse for the wholesale business, as well as freight of all kinds to and from La Crosse. In 1944, Bill’s father and his uncle, Mayo, purchased the business from Jake and Ray. In 1962, Bud and Mayo split their businesses, with Mayo retaining the garage and Ford dealership and Bud continuing with the beer business, trucks and warehousing.
As a young man growing up, Bill had the importance of hard work instilled in him by his father and grandfather. Bill worked in the family businesses including his first job which involved riding in the truck with his father as he delivered beer and later on he was employed by Millis Recreation where he reset the bowling pins at the bowling alley – and yes, this was all done by hand! Bill considered joining the Airforce after graduation, however he met the love of his life, Beverly Frost, and they decided they wanted to raise their family here in Black River Falls. Bill and Beverly have been married for 60 years and have raised eight children in their hometown, Black River Falls. Bill was able to satisfy his desire to serve his country by being a member of the Army National Guard for 16 years and was on active duty from 1961 until 1963, during the Berlin Crisis.
In 1965, Bill purchased shares of Millis Bros. Transfer, his father’s business, and drove semi for the company. In 1972, Bill became president of Millis Transfer. Under Bill’s leadership, Millis Transfer grew by leaps and bounds. They acquired numerous trucking companies and purchased more equipment to maintain their growth. After Bill’s father passed away in 1980, Bill carried the title of not only President, but also chief executive officer and the sole owner of Millis Transfer until his retirement in 1999. Bill has passed the torch on, with one of his sons, David, currently serving as president, and several of his children, their spouses, and his grandchildren working in various positions within the company. Today Millis Transfer’s 800 semis travel highways across the U.S. and employ drivers nationwide. Their home office is located in Black River Falls and they have 130 individuals who work in this office, including mechanics, driver managers, payroll, billing and rating, and managers.
Our local newspaper published an article about Bill and his company in 2016. When interviewed, Dave Brown, a long-time employee shared that he had been driving milk truck when he applied for a job with Millis Transfer. Bill interviewed Dave. Dave said “I was a farm kid; Bill gave me a chance. Bill and Bud both drove truck when I first started.” Dave went on to say “Bill was very big on family. He was that way with his employees’ family, too; he knew my sons names, my wife’s name. He is just a really good guy.”
Bill has used this same work ethic, determination and compassion to help our community. He has served as President of the Jaycees and the Lions Club. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Black River Country Bank and as Chairman of the Board of the bank. Bill was involved in the local snowmobile club for many years. Outside of our area, Bill was a member of the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association and the National Truckload Carriers Association. Bill frequently helps those less fortunate with donations to our local Friends Sharing Food organization. He has used his trucks and his time to haul hay up north for farmers in need and supplies to tornado victims in many states across the country. Bill always honors his fellow Veterans. One of the ways he was able to do so, was by moving the Veteran’s Park helicopter across the country to its current Black River Falls location.
Bill has also been very active and supportive of the Skyline Golf Course. He served as President of the Skyline Association and was instrumental in the decision to add the back nine holes. Occasionally, Bill was able to combine his love of operating heavy equipment with helping the community. Such was the case when, in addition to monetary donations, he donated equipment and staff, including himself, to the Skyline expansion project. Bill took particular pleasure in actually helping to shape the ground that would become the new back nine, and was always smiling while driving his cat or bulldozer. The Millis family contributed monetarily to the new clubhouse and continues to be one of the Skyline’s biggest supporters.
Having raised their eight children here in Black River Falls, Bill and his wife Bev have always been active in supporting children’s organizations within the community. Bill and his family have given generously to the Jackson County Little League, most recently for the lighting of the fields. The Millis family also donated funds for the construction of the commons area within the Milt Lunda Ice Arena. Focusing on local education, Bill and his family are frequent donors to the Black River Falls Educational Enrichment Fund. In 2013, Bill, Bev and their children created the Rick Millis Memorial Scholarship Fund to honor Bill and Bev’s oldest child, Richard Everett Millis, who lost his life in a car accident at the age of 31. Each year this fund provides scholarship award(s) to local area students who are furthering their educations.
Bill prefers to make his contributions very quietly and in the background, but a couple of local organizations have managed to publicly honor him. He received the Rotary Club “Service Above Self” award and is the Foundation’s 2017 “Special Person” award recipient. Bill, Bev and their family have been longtime active supporters of the Black River Falls Area Foundation. Each year they participate in our FRIENDS of the Foundation fundraiser. The Millis Family is the only donor to achieve our “Legends Circle” designation. These generous donations are used to fund our grant awards, thus helping improve the lives of thousands of people in Jackson County. Additionally, Bill’s son David has served as a past Trustee, dedicating 9 years of service to the Foundation.
However, Bill’s greatest gift to our community is one that cannot be quantified. Bill and Bev have seven adult children, each of whom not only inherited their father’s work ethic, but also his love of this community and his generous spirit. They and their spouses have chosen to call Black River Falls home, and the place where they too raised their children. These fourteen individuals continue to contribute in multiple ways to our community. That is a living legacy of which Bill, in his quiet and unassuming way, is certain to be the most proud.