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By Whitney Wyatt/The Red River Sun—
CHILDRESS – The 132nd Childress County Old Settlers Queen and King Shirley and Robert Mills are carrying on a family tradition.
“All of my family has had a part in this,” Shirley said. “I think it’s wonderful to be this year’s queen and king.”
Shirley parents, Francis and Edith Simmons, were king and queen 15 years ago. Her aunt and uncle, Billie and Harold Simmons, also have worn the crowns.
When Shirley found out she and her husband were this year’s royalty, she was surprised.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Shirley said. “To tell you truth, I didn’t even know we were in the running for it. We are thrilled.”
Her husband agreed.
“Childress means everything to us,” Robert said. “This is where we were born and raised. We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. We know everyone here. It’s just like family.”
While they were both born and raised in Childress, Shirley graduated from Carey High School in 1954. Robert said she was the Carey FFA beauty queen.
“She is a beautiful woman,” he said. “I’m very proud of her.”
Robert left for Clarendon when he was in eighth grade. After high school graduation, he moved back to Childress.
“My father worked for West Texas Utilities, and he was a lineman in Childress,” Robert said. “He climbed the pole and got the electricity back on. He had to transfer and was a serviceman in Clarendon, so we followed him there. All six of us kids went with him.”
After high school, Shirley said she married and had four children: Donnie Moates, Cindy Rufenacht, Susan Spring and Mark Moates. Just like her, Robert got married and had three children: Ricky Mills, Janice Walker and Karen Maddox.
In 1991, Shirley’s first husband was killed in a train wreck in Childress. Seven years later she said she ran into Robert, who was divorced, at TxDOT.
That chance meeting came about because she was the founder of the Satellite Center for mentally challenged adults out of the Amarillo State Center. Her son Mark, who died in 2011, had down syndrome. The Satellite Center had a work program with TxDOT, where Robert worked.
“We’ve been married for 22 years,” Shirley said.
Their marriage outlived the Satellite Center, which had to close when it lost its funding. While it was open, though, her mentally challenged clients packaged goods for 3M, collected items for recycling and cleaned roadside parks in Paducah, Estelline and Matador. They also cleaned the highway department in Childress.
“I think the Satellite Center had a big impact,” said Shirley. Her first year, she had 10 people participate. Her biggest year she had 12 clients. “We had a big calling. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Robert was an engineering technician and worked in the TxDOT District lab for 20 years as the materials analyst, and, in all, he worked for TxDOT for 42 years.
Now in their 80s and being crowned royalty by the Old Settlers, the Mills are reminiscing about their lives in Childress.
Robert was a paperboy for The Childress Index for six years. He started at 11 years old and on a bicycle, his wife added. Both of Shirley grandparents were born and raised in Childress and farmed.
“It (being crowned king and queen) is a great thing to happen,” Robert said. “It means very much to us.”