Memorial Music Fund honors Rocky Mills
Daughter: 'It's a great way to remember dad, and to help the raw talent we have in Barry County'
The late Rocky Mills — musician, gospel singer, pastor, youth pastor, father and friend — will long be remembered for many things, but most especially, his love for music and youth.
Mills was involved in his community, known for his good deeds and always willing to lend a helping hand, said Sarah Sandoval his daughter.
"My dad was active in Cassville, Washburn, and all around the Barry County area," Sandoval said. "He liked to be able to help youth at surrounding schools. He gave trumpet lessons to a senior in Washburn, and played trumpet — that's what he was well known for. He used to work at what was Johnny's Country Store in Washburn as a meat cutter. Dad performed in 'The Show' with the HomeTown Sound & the RedHots Band for over 20 years, playing trumpet, banjo, piano and bass guitar.
"In high school, he played bass guitar and trumpet in Jazz Band. It was all self-taught. He never took any lessons. He had perfect pitch. Dad could hear pitches and know if they were flat or sharp. He would always laugh and say he had an 'ear for music.'
Mills pastored Ebenezer Baptist Church in Monett for five years, where he served in several capacities.
"He had a really good youth program," Sandoval said. "He was the preacher, piano player and youth pastor."
To honor his memory, his family established the Rocky Mills Memorial Music Fund to provide grant opportunities for local music programs and support youth in their musical endeavors.
"It was originally going to be a scholarship fund, but we decided it would be more useful to help younger kids starting in band or choir that might not have the means to purchase an instrument, or pay fees and traveling expenses for events," Sandoval said.
Recently, the fund awarded $300 to both the Cassville High School choir department and band department, to help cover student travel expenses and sound equipment.
"Rocky Mills was a pillar of our community," said Mary Richmiller, Cassville High School choral director. "He lived the faith that he preached and truly was loved by all who knew him. He was also a musician, singing in gospel quartets with his family, playing the piano at his church and playing trumpet for community shows. He loved music and wanted all children to experience making music.
"The music department is honored that his family and the community would keep his vision and memory alive with this fund. There are many students who wish to participate and need a little extra help financially. We are so thankful for the Mills family providing this opportunity."
Cassville Band Director Ed Lammers also expressed his gratitude.
"The gifts to the music department from the Rocky Mills Memorial Music Fund will aid us substantially in the band department at CHS by helping with the purchase of sound equipment," he said. "This equipment will be used almost immediately this fall. The donations are a wonderful legacy of a man whose reputation in music in the Cassville community, and the love of sharing his music, will live on through these gifts. We are grateful for the contributions."
Sandoval said the fund is not limited to helping music students just in Cassville.
"The goal is to have enough funds for more than just Cassville," she said. "We would like to build it up as much as possible in order to help as much as we can."
Local musicians like Jim Craig, who performed with Mills for over two decades, recall good memories and miss Mills' friendship.
"I played music with Rocky Mills in the HomeTown Sound & the RedHots Band for over 21 years," Craig said. "He always let me be the showman, but he was the real musician in the horn section. He never let his great talent interfere with putting others first. He was a wonderful guy and a great friend to me.
"Rocky always took an interest in the young people who sang and played with us, so a fund for aspiring high school musicians in his name is very appropriate. It's a fitting tribute to a fine man and a way for his musical legacy to live on."
The youngest of four children, all with musical talent like their father, Sandoval has fond memories of singing with her family in the gospel group, Third Generation.
"All of us have played an instrument and have been very good at it," she said. "My dad, myself and grandmother would go to local churches and sing. That was a special bond between my dad and I."
When she is ready, she plans to sing again in the group, passing on the tradition to yet another generation, and in The Show — just like her father.
"It's still too hard for me right now," she said, "It's been three months [since he passed]. But my daughter is 14 and she would often come sing. He was most certainly the patriarch and was an amazing influence on all of us. He would give the shirt off his back and pull off on the side of road if he saw someone walking. He was constantly helping others. Even when he was tired, he would still dig deeper. It amazes me. So I feel like performing in The Show and singing at church is a way to honor dad."
In the future, scholarships may become part of the fund.
"If people build up the fund, we're not opposed to doing a scholarship program for a senior who needs it," Sandoval said. "The fund is a great way to remember dad, and to help the raw talent we have in Barry County. We hope to be able to do this for years to come."
The fund is located at Freedom Bank of Southern Missouri for anyone who would like to contribute.