Willa Dean (“Dee”) (Mills )Harris of Grand Junction, Colorado was born on May 28, 1923, to Mabel Ward Mills and Cecil Mills in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and went home to her Lord on January 25, 2020.
Dee and her family moved to a farm in Waldron, Arkansas in 1932 during the Great Depression. Dee played basketball for Waldron High School and was named to the all-state team three years. Dee briefly attended nursing school in Rogers, Arkansas, before moving to St. Louis, Missouri. While Dee was working in a soda fountain in St. Louis, a soldier preparing to deploy during World War II ordered a chocolate malt. Dee was smitten from the start and promised him the best chocolate malt he ever had. He agreed that it was the best, and Dee and Lynn Harris married just weeks later on Feb. 7, 1943.
After the War, Dee and Lynn moved to Valparaiso, Indiana. Dee worked as a telephone operator supervisor, several positions at Valparaiso University, including Hostess at the Faculty Club, and as a district sales manager for World Book Encyclopedia. And Dee was a tireless church and community volunteer. She was named the Porter County, Indiana, Woman of Distinction in 1955. She was a member of Calvary Baptist Church, where she volunteered in numerous positions. After retiring to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she lived for 31 years, Dee was heavily involved in Senior Olympics. Over the years, she competed in everything from shotput, discus, cycling, to bench-rest pistol shooting, shuffleboard, table tennis, and her passion, 8-ball pool. She medaled numerous times at the county, state, and national levels. The Dona Ana County annual award for the outstanding senior athlete, the Dee Harris Award, is named for Dee. Dee served on both the Dona Ana County Senior Olympic board and served on state board of New Mexico Senior Olympics for 25 years, finally “retiring” at the age of 90.
Dee was a long-time member and volunteer at First Baptist Church of Las Cruces. In 1990, Las Cruces published a community guide that named 12 legends in the history of Las Cruces. Dee was named one of the City’s legends alongside individuals that included the founder of New Mexico State University and Pat Garrett, best known for shooting Billy the Kid. In 2014, Dee moved to Solstice of Grand Valley in Grand Junction, Colorado, where she also volunteered and played a mean game of pinochle.
Dee was preceded in death by her husband, Lynn Hamilton Harris, her daughter, Phyllis (Harris) Caten, and her brothers James Cecil and Earl Lee Mills. She is survived by her son, Dean Hamilton Harris, her brother, Roy Lee Mills, her grandchildren, Glenn, Gail, and Glenn Harris, and Dean Edward and Charles Gingerich. She is survived by her great-grandchildren, Gabriel Rheuben and Calliana Dee Harris, Dionne Stephenson, and Danielle Ziulkowski.
A celebration of Dee’s life will be held at Solstice Senior Living of the Grand Valley, 3260 North 12th Street, Grand Junction, Colorado at a future date to be determined. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to HopeWest, Grand Junction, Colorado.
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