Lois McMillan, a beloved Tiny Tots teacher known as “Miss Lois” at the Burbank parks, passed away on Jan. 16 in an assisted living facility in Burbank. She was 91.
She was born on July 18, 1924, in Grand Forks, N.D., and had lived in Burbank since 1961.
She was a recreation coordinator for the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department from 1965 to 1988.
When she applied for the job with the city of Burbank, it was during the 1960s, her daughter-in-law Cheryl McMillan said, she wore a hat and gloves to the interview.
“They were impressed with that,” she said. “That’s why they hired her.”
McMillan was very apt at crafts, so in addition to Tiny Tots, she taught macrame, resin art and just about anything one could think of.
Rosemary Manz remembered making holiday decorations in Lois McMillan’s classes at Verdugo Park. One time they turned a plastic bleach bottle into a Santa Claus, Manz said.
Lew Stone’s children were in Lois McMillan’s Tiny Tots class, and she was his boss when he worked at Verdugo Park during college, he said.
“She was the sweetest lady,” he said. “She treated all of us employees like her own kids.”
After craft class, Stone said, she would put her arm around the children as she walked them out to meet their parents.
“She took great pleasure in making every child in the program seem special,” he said.
Retired parks employee Mickey Depalo worked with Lois for many years.
“Lois was like a second mother to me,” he said. “She treated everybody with such kindness and respect and she was the most optimistic person I’ve ever known. She always saw the bright side to everything, which had a real positive effect on the workplace, the people she worked with and the people who came to the recreation center.”
Former city manager Mary Alvord worked for several years with Lois McMillan when Alvord worked at McCambridge Recreation Center.
“Lois had the ability to turn egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, milk cartons and glitter into magical creations and treasures,” Alvord said. “And, whether a class participant was 3 or 83, Lois had a way of relating to that individual and finding a way to bring joy and fun to any activity.”
McMillan also had a can-do attitude that inspired everyone who worked with her, Alvord said. She never focused on a job description or worried about getting a lunch hour or work breaks.
“Instead, she was about doing whatever needed to be done and she instinctively knew what needed to be done,” Alvord said. “If we needed someone to teach a tap dance class for kids, Lois would learn the basics of tap, put on a pair of tap shoes and teach the class like a true pro!”
McMillan was often sought out for advice from strangers she met at the grocery store check-out line and those she met when the family traveled to England, said her son Richard McMillan.
“Strangers would tell her their life story,” he said. “They were drawn to her like cats to catnip.”
That knack continued when she entered the assisted living facility.
“It was strange because here are adult women who are having issues with their children and they are going to this woman who is going through the early stages of Alzheimer’s and asking her for advice, but she always gave really good advice even when she was sliding away from us,” Richard McMillan said.
Lois McMillan would always tell family stories, and her son Richard encouraged her to do research and secure documentation, so she started practicing genealogy. They now have many binders filled with family history. She became so good at it, that she started volunteering at the Mormon Church Family History Center. That led to her joining the Daughters of the American Revolution, San Fernando Valley Chapter, which was previously the Richard Gridley Chapter based in Glendale.
After she retired in 1988, she volunteered at her granddaughter Beth’s class at Roosevelt Elementary School and other classrooms. She received the city of Burbank Mayor’s Commendation as an Outstanding Senior Volunteer in 1992.
She is survived by her sons Scott MacMillan (Katherine) of Staunton, Va. and Richard McMillan (Cheryl) of Burbank; grandchildren Cameron MacMillan (Anna), Katie McGinley (Jon) and Beth Alcala (Andrew); great-grandchildren Fiona Alcala and Dane McGinley; brother Jerry McBain, Walla Walla, Wash.; and many nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her husband John “Jack” McMillan in 1982; and brothers Duane and Eugene McBain; and sister Bonita Logsdon.
There will be a tree planting and celebration of life at noon on Feb. 26 at Verdugo Park, 3201 W. Verdugo Ave. Refreshments to follow. In lieu of flowers, make donations to Alzheimer’s Assn.