, Corbin, KY


June 20, 2014

Remembering Steve Mills: 1979-2014

Recycling director dies at 35

CORBIN — The doors were open Thursday at the Corbin Recycling Center on South Main Street, as they were next door at Corbin City Hall.

But inside, there were feelings of emptiness, of sadness, and of loss, among employees at both locations.

It was due to the passing of a dedicated worker and trusted friend, Steve Mills.

Mills, the Director of the Corbin Recycling Center, died at home early Thursday morning from diabetic complications. He was 35.

Mills had been in declining health in recent months, due to diabetes and kidney problems. Friends at City Hall said that had Mills lived another month, he would have been with Corbin Recycling for 15 years.

Those who worked with him at the recycling center, such as Michael Petrey, agreed that while their jobs went on, the mood in the building was pretty quiet.

“It’s tough right now. It’s hard to take it, especially when we didn’t expect him to die. It was kind of sudden,” he said.

“I just talked to him on the phone last night about 6:30, and he said he was looking forward to going camping at Laurel Lake next month with me, my wife, and his mom. … Steve was a good man. He was a Christian, and as far as I know, his job at recycling was the only job he ever had. Steve got this job after he graduated from high school. I surely miss him,” noted Gene Smith, the Assistant Recycler at the center.

As his co-workers came into the office where Mills worked, they each shared and mentioned a common trait the man had — treating people fair and square.

Mike Abner’s known Mills for about a dozen years, and was hired by him at the recycling center 10 years ago.

“He treated everyone good. Steve was a number one boss. He treated all of us employees well. And when the inmates (from the Whitley County Detention Center) would come over to help us, he treated them with decency and respect. That means a lot,” he said.

Petrey added, “Steve treated everybody equal and fairly. He’s the best boss I ever had in my life. If he did something for you, I’d do it for him.”

Mills took his work seriously, with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

He was equally proud of what he did in his spare time, and his friends pointed out all he had to do was go outdoors to his farm, or spend some quality time hunting out in the woods.

“He loved to hunt. Coon hunting, rabbit hunting. He especially loved rabbit hunting. Steve also had a farm and raised animals, including goats. He took pride in his coon dogs and his goats. I bought a goat from him the other day. I didn’t get to tell him what my wife named the goat. She named him ‘Oscar,’” Petrey recalled.

Abner said of his friend, “He just went out and bought him some beagles the other day. When he was out in the woods hunting, he was happy. He’d cut up, laugh, and brag on how good of a shot he was.”

Smith has known Mills since he was a baby.

Both have a common bond with each other, and with the City of Corbin.

Gene’s dad, and Steve’s dad — Lonzo Mills — both worked in the city’s Public Works Department for many years.

Smith also hunted with Steve Mills. But Smith said one of those trips when they were younger just didn’t quite go as planned, due to something he just happened to carry with him.

“Steve was about 14 years old when he went rabbit hunting. I had some beef jerky in my pocket, and as long as I had that jerky, I was his best friend. That was until the beef jerky ran out. Then Steve hunted with his dad the rest of the day,” he said, smiling.

Earlier Thursday, Smith and other City Hall employees went to Mills’ mother’s house, taking food to her and expressing their condolences.

In a Times-Tribune story on January 17 of this year, Mills said his crew at Corbin Recycling had a goal for 2014 — “Helping recycling grow.”

Pointing out across-the-board increases in six recycling categories, he said the total recycled in Corbin in 2013 came up to 877.6 tons.

He felt the combination of people, businesses and organizations in the city who are recycling, combined with new equipment, and a special program the center had last year, made the rise in recycling a reality.

“Are people paying more attention to recycling than before? I think so. Our volume has picked up tremendously, and people are more conscious of it. It’s also cutting down on their garbage bills. The more they can recycle, the less garbage goes into the landfill,” Mills said at the time.

He was especially proud of a weekend event that proved popular with many people — “E-Cycling Saturday” — now an annual tradition where people can drop off older computers, TV’s and other electronic equipment to the center for recycling.

This year’s event, held on Saturday, April 5, brought in nearly 7,600 pounds — over three-and-a-half tons — of old electronics and other materials. It nearly doubled the amount they took in during the 2013 E-Cycling Saturday, which was just over two tons.

Mills was always looking for ways to improve the recycling center, and was an advocate for building a larger facility.

Like many who worked for the city, Corbin’s top two officials were surprised and saddened by Mills’ passing.

Both had heavy hearts Thursday.

City Manager Marlon Sams said, “We discussed the recycling program numerous times, and the growth Steve and his team brought to make it a successful program. He was a model employee for the City of Corbin, and one of the finest people you’d ever meet and work with. Steve was reliable, trustworthy, respectful of people and respected in return. He served Corbin with honor and distinction. My thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time.”

“Hearing of his death this morning came as a shock. Steve was one of our most considerate employees. He was very appreciative of his job. We couldn’t ask for a better employee. Steve would come and talk to me about ways to improve the recycling program, and in fact, he was in my office a few days ago. Steve was dedicated, very conscientious. He will truly and sadly be missed,” said Mayor Willard McBurney.

And there was this from the city’s Building Inspector/Codes and Planning, Frank Burke.

“Steve was a special guy to me. I don’t think there was anybody more laid-back than Steve Mills. I thought I was laid-back in my younger days, but I can’t hold a candle to Steve. I can’t think of anybody that didn’t like him.”

On the City of Corbin’s Facebook page Thursday, friends and readers were asked, “Please remember his family and friends in your prayers.”

A Corbin native, Mills lived with his mother in Barbourville. She survives.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete as of Thursday night. Vankrik-Grisell Funeral Home on Master Street in Corbin is in charge of arrangements.

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