The Founders Society recognized one of the F&M Geology Department’s earliest students in last year’s newsletter. We highlighted the long career of Jerry Wermund ’48, noting that he was the only living person from those earliest days. Imagine our surprise and delight when we received a letter from John R. Mills, class of 1947, announcing that he was actually quite alive and well and living in Australia! John was the first graduate of Franklin and Marshall College with a B.A. in Geology! John was Jerry’s lab instructor in Pete Foose’s class. John also initiated and played on the College’s first lacrosse team, which also has a proud record.
Talking to John Mills brings to mind the phrase, “Been there, done that” as his experiences in geology cover a span of 40 years in numerous countries. John worked with Father Dan Linahan at Weston Observatory in Massachusetts exploring the use of shallow seismic experiments to determine geologic structures below ground. He believes Father Linahan may have been one of first to realize the potential of geophysics in this way. After completing his M.Sc. John began employment by working as an assistant driller in New England (USA) on irrigation and municipal water wells. As John says, ‘in those days there was no other way of learning the drilling game. It was all practical!”
After a thorough grounding in the industry, John set up his own consultancy business based in Vermont. As a member of the fledgling National Water Well Association of America, he founded the Technical Division and saw the Association grow from its original eight members to >2000 members. It was during this period that John was engaged as a groundwater consultant for the United Nations, to prepare and supervise tenders for drill rigs and equipment for a pilot drilling program in Afghanistan. Then, as now, budget constraints had their effect and only 600 feet of casing was purchased, the project supervisor reasoning that since it was a pilot study, the casing could be retrieved and used again. As John predicted, the successful completion of the first artesian test bore resulted in the local tribesmen mounting an armed guard over the well with the express intention of shooting anyone who tried to disturb the “miracle well”! As most of the casing was down the hole, the pilot project came to a halt.
John’s first visit to Australia was in 1958 to conduct a study of the Australian groundwater industry, its methods and equipment. Appreciating the opportunities, he migrated to Australia in 1962, accepting an appointment as a hydrogeologist with the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission (now the Water Resources Commission) of New South Wales. Preferring field to office work, John rapidly became familiar with the greater part of N.S.W., and met many of the drillers and contractors. The essentially undeveloped groundwater potential of the alluvial river valleys of N.S.W. were of special interest to John, and he became involved with the Commission’s test drilling program. Recognizing his experience in the States with rotary drilled alluvial wells and geophysical investigations, he was assigned the task of assessing their application to the Commission’s groundwater investigation program. This led to the adoption of rotary drilling methods and the establishment of a Geophysical Section in the Commission.
In 1965 John founded Australian Groundwater Consultants and worked with farmers suffering from a drought to develop high capacity water wells for irrigation. He helped get the newly founded National Water Well Association of Australia up and running in 1971. In that same year he began teaching a semester course on groundwater and drilling at the new Macquarie University. He taught there until 1980 when his commitments to the Association precluded further part time teaching. John was Executive Secretary of the Association until his retirement and played a key role in expanding the Association into the global economy.
John’s long and varied geologic career began in an F&M classroom and has since spanned the globe. His list of ‘firsts’ is a tribute to the sound foundation in geology he received at F&M, coupled with the expansive and ‘go-do-it’ attitude that a liberal arts education can bestow. We salute John Mills, class of 1947!
Text partially adapted from a retirement tribute written about John.