Though one of the founders of Milhous Children’s Services, Frances Milhous, has died, her vision and organization lives on.
“She’s been a cornerstone … of the whole family,” said Richard Milhous, Frances’ son and CEO of Milhous Children’s Services.
“We really looked up to mom because she’s one of the original Milhouses.”
Frances Milhous passed away Jan. 5 at the age of 90 but has left a lasting impression on her family and the community.
“She was such a pillar of our community,” Richard Milhous said. “It was commonplace to be able to talk to her and hear about the family and what they’ve been through.”
Richard said his mother would tell stories at family reunions, passing down the family history.
“We’d always have a family reunion at the ranch, and she was always sought after and would tell stories about the family because she had the most information,” Richard said. “She was a very special lady.”
Frances married Oliver Milhous in 1940 and eventually moved in the 1950s to North San Juan, where they opened their home to foster children while simultaneously operating their ranch.
In 1968, Oliver and Frances and their two sons, Richard and Frank, started a treatment center for neglected boys on the ranch and expanded into a facility at the suggestion of the state, said Teresa Petrie, Frances’ granddaughter and assistant CEO at Milhous Children’s Services.
“They took care of a lot of family people’s kids as well, and then that grew into taking foster children, and the state workers told them, ‘You have all this land and do such a great job, would you be interested in opening it up to more kids as a facility?’ And they agreed,” Petrie said.
After filing paperwork with the state, with the business assistance of their children, Milhous Boys Ranch and School was started.
“The boys came here and did basic home life chores, and they also went to a nonpublic school on the grounds here and learned life skills and responsibilities and were able to complete schooling because it was like private school, almost one-on-one, and they all had animal chores to help with and loved that,” Petrie said.
The facility was a very involved and dedicated process in constant operation, Milhous said.
“When we first started this whole process, we worked seven days, 24 hours a day for the first three years of opening the boys ranch,” Milhous said.
Milhous Children’s Services has since expanded into four locations in Sacramento, while still operating at the ranch in Nevada City, Petrie said.
“Sacramento County had some other kids placed here and they wanted us to open up for more of their kids in Sacramento,” Petrie said. “Then it just grew from there. We have children from 35 counties around California.”
Frances Milhous was also involved in other community outreach activities and helped organize a teen center for the local youth to use, Richard Milhous said.
“She’d been involved in several organizations and things and was one of the very first to open up the teen center in North San Juan,” he said. “Kids didn’t have any place to go, and we’d go to it and listen to Elvis Presley and whatever was popular at the time. They were very progressive old-fashioned folks.”
The nearly 1,000-acre ranch housed an extensive collection of animals for which Oliver Milhous was licensed to care. Nevada County Fish and Game also often gave the Milhouses abandoned or injured animals to care for, Petrie said.
“She was always taking in hurt and sick animals, Oliver and her both,” Petrie said. “Grandpa also did deals with the zoo and traded different animals.”
Frances and Oliver would display their animals in petting zoos at the Nevada County Fairgrounds and participate in parades, Petrie said.
“They would bring in their goats and they had a black bear and mountain lion, reindeer and buffalo, two to three monkeys, and they had a lot of draft horses as well,” Petrie said.
The loving personality translated to all aspects of Frances’ life, Petrie said.
“She was very, very nurturing and caring,” Petrie said. “She loved to travel, loved music, the outdoors, and was always very involved with other people, sending cards to everybody, very social.”
Richard Milhous also spoke of what a genuinely caring person Frances was, having helped house 54 foster children and 4,000 children at the ranch.
“Her whole life has been caring for people, and it’s been genuine,” he said. “Giving all the time was not something sporadic, like an ‘I think I might want to get up and do something nice’-type thing. It was a lifetime mannerism they went through.”
Richard Milhous said the loss of such a prominent part of the his family has been difficult.
“You can’t be around somebody for 40 years and it not be a loss,” Richard said. “It’s not an easy thing to lose. Not having her around and not being in our midst is going to be sorely missed.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4230.