The previous year, 2014, was a rough one for the Mills family.
Patriarch Bryan suffered a relapse with cancer, then his younger son Jacob was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Older son Andrew was pulled between helping his family and juggling many responsibilities as a senior at Surry Central.
With 2015 coming to a close, Andrew can look back on an incredible collection of achievements despite the familial struggles.
Over the past year, Andrew Mills has finished a senior project, played on his varsity football team, earned first chair honors in both the Surry All-County Band and the Tri-County Band, tried his hand at golf, earned a medal in Jr. ROTC, graduated high school, and earned his Eagle Scout badge.
What did you do with your 2015?
As a junior, Andrew was in a unique position of trying to play varsity football and march in the school band. Each activity required a lot of free time for practice, and both took place on Friday nights.
There were times over his junior and senior years where Andrew marched with his band mates in the halftime show while wearing his football uniform. An article on the school website said Andrew was the first Golden Eagle to participate in both events in at least a dozen years.
In the middle of the season, however, the two health problems came up.
“Dad had his right kidney removed when I was a freshman,” he said. Three years later, a new growth had formed in the spot where the kidney had once been. The cancer had returned.
“Then we found out that Jacob had to have a surgery to remove a tumor that was pushing against his optic nerve,” he said.
The communities within Copeland Elementary and Surry Central came together to support the boys. On Homecoming Night 2014, the high school held a fundraising chicken stew in the cafeteria before the football game, with proceeds going to the Mills family. WXII made Andrew its Athlete of the Week.
Jacob had brain surgery, and Bryan underwent aggressive cancer treatment that appeared to slow and possibly halt the cancer’s growth.
Things seemed to be improving, and people moved on to other concerns, but all was not well at the Mills house. Jacob still had issues with tunnel vision in one eye, and the cancer medication pushed Bryan right to the brink of death before doctors eased back.
Overwhelmed by it all, Andrew threw himself into his activities. He finished his senior year strong, even joining the school golf team this spring.
He was inducted into the National Honor Society, the Tri-M Honor Society (music) and the Kitty Hawk Air Society (ROTC).
Andrew also earned the Military Officer Association of America medal in ROTC as an outstanding cadet who “has demonstrated exceptional potential for military leadership.”
On the bass clarinet, he earned first chair in the all-county band for the third time, then followed that up with first chair in the Tri-County Band. He received the Marine Corps’ Semper Fi Bandsmen award as a first chair in his school who also exemplifies the strong character that the Marine Corps admires.
Outside of school, Andrew also has spent many years in scouting, working his way from Cub Scouts to Webelos to Boy Scouts.
As a Boy Scout hoping to become an Eagle Scout, Andrew said, “I first had to earn all the ranks that lead up to the Eagle Scout rank in order: Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and finally Eagle.”
Most of those ranks came quickly.
“I was able to receive my Life rank after being in only three years, then I hit a standstill for the longest time because of school activities such as band, football.”
Just as high school requires a senior project, Eagle Scout requires a proposal to give back to the community.
“Once I started working at Camp (Raven Knob) in 2013, I decided that I need to start getting ideas for my project proposal,” he said.
He asked adult scouts what they did for projects, but none caught his attention.
“That’s when I saw that my church’s walking track needed massive repair.”
Level Cross United Methodist Church sits at the intersection of N.C. 268 and Siloam Road. Directly across 268 from the church is an empty field. Several years back, the church cleared out a walking path around the perimeter of the square lot. As nature tends to do, vegetation returned and threatened to obliterate the path.
“So I decided to ask the church council if I could have permission to repair the track,” he said.
“After I got approval from them, I went in front of the Eagle board to gain permission to do it, which I did but after a lot of paperwork.
“Afterward I asked for donations from family and friends to help me with my project, but then there was a couple more roadblocks. First the weather didn’t cooperate with when I wanted to work on my project. Then we found out that Jacob had to have a surgery.”
Work on the path started in November 2014 and finished in February.
Once he put the finishing touches on the necessary paperwork, Andrew received his Eagle Scout badge over the summer — fittingly during a ceremony held in the Level Cross church.
A close friend of his father, Bryan Reif, read a speech called the Eagle Challenge.
“Welcome to the Eagle brotherhood. This carries with it a great honor and responsibility,” said Reif. “You are a marked man. You will be tested, tried, mocked and expected to rise above the average to do great things.
“Above all, you are required to give back and guide those striving to be where you are; not to disappear, but to stay the course.
“Share your knowledge with others and show them the way. To be patient, kind and lead by example. Be what the lads need you to be. Attaining Eagle is not the end, but a beginning. To inspire and share your knowledge will reward you all the days of your life.”
In discussing the Eagle Challenge afterward, Bryan Mills admitted that he was the one who wrote down these words of advice to his son.
In describing what it means to become an Eagle Scout, Andrew said, “I like passing down what I’ve learned in scouting to the younger scouts and helping other people with requirements. Becoming an Eagle Scout means a lot to me because it shows that you can be counted on for difficult tasks and that you can be trusted to be there for anyone who needs help.”
Over the summer, Andrew worked at Camp Raven Knob and now he is enrolled at Surry Community College studying for an Associate of Arts degree.
While he tries to sort out what the future might hold for him, his family knows that Andrew will find a way to reach his goals no matter what obstacle life throws at him.