Educator Laura Ethel Mills left a lasting impression on those she taught, either in the classroom or on field trips to the deserts that she loved so much. An accomplished photographer and recognized authority in the field of natural history, Mills created permanent images of the diversity of life found in Nevada's Great Basin.
Mills was born on March 3, 1893, in Elk River, Minnesota, to John and Anna (Bailey) Mills. When she was young, her family relocated to a homestead near Fallon, Nevada. After graduating from Churchill County High School in 1912, Mills passed state examinations and obtained her teaching certificate. Her first teaching job was at Tobar Station in eastern Nevada, where she developed an interest in photography, surrounded by mountains, flowers, and vast desert vistas. After one year at Tobar, she returned to Fallon and began teaching in Churchill County.
For Mills, instruction went beyond the classroom. She accompanied her students on field trips into the desert where they photographed petroglyphs, local Native Americans, ghost towns, and rock formations. Her camera captured all aspects of the natural landscape including flora and fauna, wild flowers, cloud formations, and insects.
Mills continued her own education by spending several summers as a student at the Yosemite Field School of Natural History. Her photographic skills and knowledge gained at the school inspired her to record and document much of Churchill County's history.
After forty years as a teacher, Mills officially retired in 1953. In 1968, she received the Distinguished Nevadan Award. She continued to learn and devote her time to hobbies and youth activities up until her death in 1973. In lasting appreciation of her devotion to her community, a park in Fallon was named in her memory. The Laura Mills Memorial Park—which includes an area of native plants—was dedicated in 1976.