Ossian Everett Mills (February 16, 1856 – December 26, 1920) was the founder of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America, at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 6, 1898.
Mills' ancestors had emigrated from England to Massachusetts in the 1600s. Ossian Everett Mills was born to Andrew and Maria Wheaton Perry Mills in Thompson, Connecticut on February 16, 1856. Andrew Mills was himself a music teacher.
The name Ossian is an anglicized version of Oisin, who in Irish mythology, was regarded as the greatest poet of Ireland and was a fianna warrior. This legendary figure played prominently in the work Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books, together with Several Other Poems composed by Ossian, the Son of Fingal, translated from the Gaelic Language, written in musical measured prose, published by Scottish poet James MacPherson in 1761. The source of Mills' given name is ironic given the later traditions associated with the fraternity that he would establish.
Mills married Clara Cleveland Carper, the daughter of Homer Carper and Catherine Welch, on August 28, 1883 in Delaware, Ohio. Clara was born on December 28, 1863 in Ohio, and died twenty-six years after her husband on January 14, 1952 in Newton, Massachusetts. The Mills had one son, Homer Ossian Mills, Sr., who was born on March 5, 1888 in Boston, attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst and died in Putnam, Connecticut, on June 5, 1973.
As early as 1879, Ossian Mills went to Boston and was eventually employed in the business office of the New England Conservatory by Dr. Eben Tourjee, founder of the institution. Mills rose eventually to be bursar, the position he held at the time of his death, and the one through which he had been known to thousands of conservatory teachers and students. While his father was a music instructor, and while it has been reported that his wife was a vocalist, Ossian Mills' specific musical background and/or training remains unclear.
In 1898, Mills founded the Sinfonia Club at the Conservatory, which would soon become the Alpha Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America. He was made an honorary member of the club at its first meeting on October 6, 1898. On November 14, 1898, the chapter elected him treasurer, an office which he held for many years afterward. Although the first initiation of new members took place on November 28, 1898, Mills was not initiated until the following meeting on December 13.
Often referred to as the "Father of Sinfonia", Mills was a familiar figure at annual conventions until his last years when his work would not permit his leaving Boston. He served the fraternity as its first and fourth supreme president (1901-1902 and 1904–1905) and was elected "Honorary Grand Supreme President for Life" in 1904. Along with the fraternity's sixth supreme president, Percy Jewett Burrell, he has been credited by Fraternity historians with formulating the basic philosophies and spiritual values espoused by the fraternity. Much of this fundamental philosophy is encapsulated in his presidential messages and other writings that appeared in Fraternity publications between 1902 and 1915. Today, these writings are regularly used to instruct the fraternity's probationary members about the obligations and expectations of fraternity membership.
As late as 1917, Mills continued to sign membership certificates, but other specific involvement during that time is unclear. During the period from approximately 1917 to 1920 or 1922, the Fraternity went through a transition period marked by organizational difficulty on the national level (resulting in the cancellation of the national convention two years in a row), complicated by the United States' involvement in World War I. Ossian Everett Mills died from a short bout with pneumonia at his home in Wellesley, Massachusetts on December 26, 1920 (several days after the Fraternity's national convention, though it is unclear as to whether or not Mills had been in attendance). His funeral was held on December 28 at Wellesley (Boston Globe, December 28, 1920) and was buried in the family plot of West Thompson Cemetery in Thompson, Connecticut, near the burial site of his great-grandfather Nathaniel Mills (1711–1787). He was survived by his wife Clara, son Homer, and two grandchildren, Everett Matherson Mills (1916–c. 2000) and Ruth Perry Mills Cole (b. c. 1917). Following his death, however, two other grandchildren would be born, Homer Ossian Mills, Jr. (1922-1999), and Arthur Warren Mills (named after Ossian Mills' youngest brother, b. 1927).
In December 1928, the Fraternity under the leadership of Peter Dykema dedicated a memorial marker at Mills' gravesite (Boston Globe, December 22, 1928). After the ceremony was adapted for a special centennial memorial service at the site in 1998, it was adapted for use as the Fraternity's Founders Day Ceremony.
In preparation for the 1998 centennial celebration of the fraternity, John Mongiovi, then serving as Chair of the Fraternity's CPR Council, located Arthur Mills and invited him and his wife to participate in the commemorative events in Boston, as well as the Mills memorial service conducted in Putnam. Six years later, in recognition of his support of Fraternity leaders in their historical research efforts, Arthur Warren Mills was initiated into the fraternity's national honorary Alpha Alpha Chapter in October 2004 during a weekend of Founders Day events in the Boston, Massachusetts area. The ceremony itself was conducted at the Boston Conservatory. In addition, a great-great-grandson, Eric Mills, was initiated as a collegiate member by the Gamma Theta Chapter at the University of North Texas in 2008. During his time as an active member there, he served as Fraternal Education Officer and Music Director for the chapter. Eric's father (Ossian's great-grandson), Arthur Warren Mills III, was initiated in September 2012, as an honorary member of the Gamma Theta Chapter. Thus, the Fraternity spans five generations in the Mills family.
"Let our friendship be marked by kind words, kind deeds, and lasting cooperation in our common work; and, remembering that our inspiration is from on High, from the God of all creatures, we should ever be constant in our humble attitude to this great source. Let our sincerity be manifest to all. Hypocrisy should be unknown to us, and a solicitude for our fellows should dominate our every word and action. Then our nobility will shine forth in our characters..." (The President's Message, 1902)
The National Philanthropy of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia continues to be known as the Mills Music Mission, named for Ossian Everett Mills. In 1886, Mills originated the practice of taking a group of New England Conservatory students to perform for patients in Boston hospitals on Christmas and Easter. The students would sing, play music and give recitations. The students would also bring flowers to distribute to the patients. Mills' "flower missions," as they came to be known, brought joy to the lonely and hope to the destitute. The Mills Music Mission was accepted as Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia's National Philanthropy in 2003. It is unique among fraternity philanthropies in that Sinfonians make a personal sacrifice to help individuals and lift spirits through music. During the week of February 11–18, 2006, almost 200 chapters and alumni associations participated in Mills Music Missions in observance of Ossian Everett Mills' 150th birthday.
The Fraternity presents the Ossian E. Mills Award to a Sinfonian who, through his leadership and dedication, has immeasurably furthered the cause of Phi Mu Alpha on a national scale and who embodies the ideals of the Fraternity. The first recipient was former national executive director Edward A. Klint, who received the award at the 1988 national convention. Subsequent recipients have included James H. Patrenos, Henry Charles, T. Jervis Underwood, and Richard A. Crosby.
Mills' memory and contributions are commemorated annually by the members of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia on October 6, which is designated as the Fraternity's Founders Day. During the Fraternity's Centennial celebration in October 1998, a memorial service was held at Mills' grave site, utilizing a format based on a ceremony used to dedicate Mills' monument which was placed in 1928. The Fraternity's Founders Day Ceremony is based on this ceremony.
Mills' writings are often used during the probationary membership process to provide instruction and insight into the philosophies and values that guided Mills and other members in the establishment of the Fraternity and to provide a framework for fulfilling the obligations of membership.