Earl Freudenberg: Ted Mills And His Beautiful Roses

  • Thursday, May 18, 2023
  • Earl Freudenberg

The rose has always been my favorite flower and my favorite rose would have to be “Mr. Lincoln.” Someone said giving a dozen roses is a clear statement of love and I believe it.

Growing up in White Oak, I’d visit my Grandmother Ruffners, many times finding her in the yard with all her rose bushes. She’d say, “Early Boy these roses talk my language.” I really never knew what that meant until I met Ted Mills.

As a young teenager, I helped Harris Downey at the White Oak Florist deliver a lot of rose floral arrangements to hospitals and funeral homes. There was just something very special about the beauty of those roses.

I joined the Armed Forces Week committee in 1974 and met Ted Mills, the banker - businessman who was always dressed in a suit. Mr. Mills was a senior vice president of American National Bank and the longtime treasurer of the committee. I quickly found out that in his spare time Mr. Mills liked to get his hands dirty and grew roses. We became good friends.

Mr. Mills was president of the 1940 graduating class of Soddy Daisy High School, a University of Chattanooga graduate and he received a master’s degree in banking from Rutgers University. When talking to him one would never know of his expertise in financing and banking, Ted Mills just wanted to talk about his roses and I would listen.

We started a daily talk show on WDOD in the mid 80’s and one of our first guests was Ted Mills. He enjoyed sharing his knowledge with listeners and there wasn’t a rose question he couldn’t answer.

Mr. Mills could lecture you about the floribunda, climbing roses, and hybrid or, like me, roses for beginners. He always knew the latest varieties and would give the prospective of a grower with special tips for easy planting.

The Rosarian said he got interested in growing roses in the 70’s and just couldn’t give it up. “It was something I could do with my wife Mary Alice after retirement.”

Every May Ted would come by the station with a dozen roses - “Mr. Lincoln” that he’d grown at his Stuart Heights home. I’d go over to his house where it was decorated with dozens of varieties of roses just like families decorate their home for Christmas. It was just natural beauty. What was so interesting, Ted knew all of them by name and could tell you about them.

His wife Mary Alice loved roses as much as her husband. She would fix us a glass of iced tea and we’d sip while walking around his large yard full of gorgeous rose bushes. I spent several afternoons with Ted telling me about each rose and its history.

He knew the history of the famous Warner Park Rose Garden and he served as a consultant to the city on how to take care of all the bushes.

Mr. Mills loved the United States and would often talk about his time in World War II and the “Battle of the Bulge.” He received the bronze star for meritorious service but the conversation would always return to his roses.

When my daughter Amy was married, Ted Mills walked into the Calvary Bible Church service with a beautiful bouquet of roses grown in his rose garden. There could not have been a better gift.

While recently walking in Riverview with my wife Julie we passed several rose bushes and I immediately thought of Ted Mills.

He served as president of the American Rose Society and was the inventor of Mills Magic Rose Fertilizer. Many rose growers said the mix was magic and saved their bushes from dying.

Officials named the rose garden at the Soddy–Daisy Veterans Park in honor of Ted and Mary Alice Mills.

Did he have a favorite? With a big smile he responded, “I like the Dolly Parton.”

Ted’s wife of 64 years passed first and, when he called me with the news, I really had no words of comfort but pointed out his beautiful roses and how much Mrs. Mills loved them. He reminded me of the old Gospel Song, “Where the Roses never Fade.”

Ted said he especially liked the line “Here they bloom but for a season, then their beauty is decayed, I am going to a city where the roses never fade.” Mr. Mills said something like, “Earl just think, Mary Alice is enjoying those roses and someday soon I’ll join her, “where the roses never fade.”

Ted Mills passed away December 30, 2017, and his service was held at the First Presbyterian Church where he and his wife were faithful members.

His body was laid to rest at the Chattanooga National Cemetery. On Memorial Day I’ll remember this veteran of the “Big One” and his service to our country.

I’ll also see the images in my mind of those Mr. Lincoln red roses Ted Mills grew and brought us every May to the radio station.

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