By Cecily Markland
Mildred West Wiseman Packard passed away January 17, at 92.
The Mesa mother of eight, known as “Milli” to family and friends, was widely recognized as a “remarkably talented” musician and composer and an example of gospel living.
Milli was born February 9, 1922, in Lakeside, Arizona, to Karl Bates West and Irma Hansen.
From the time she was young, music was a priority in her life. Around 1939, she had her first “formal” music education.
“Her parents couldn’t really afford this expense – it was a huge extravagance in the late ‘30s—but they rounded up enough money to get her to Arizona State Teachers College [now NAU],” says Milli’s daughter, Laura Jones.
Milli graduated in 1943 with a bachelors in Music and Elementary Education. More than 30 years later, she went back to school, studying music for three years at Mesa Community College and learning to play several instruments, including drums.
She taught English at a private school for many years, was an excellent seamstress and was actively involved in the community.
However, it was her music that underscored every aspect of her life.
She was a sought-after soloist and, in the early ‘70s, she recorded the Beatitudes solo for the Temple Easter Sunrise Pageant. She sang with the MCC community choir the Arizona Mormon Choir, and then, until she was in her 90s, performed with the Arizona Desert Choir.
She wrote hundreds of songs and did what she could to share them with others.
“(My songs) don’t do anybody any good sitting in my closet. I want people to sing them, to enjoy them,” the East Valley Tribune quoted Milli as saying.
In her mid-80s, Milli helped write the music for “1856,” a musical about the pioneers by Cory Ellsworth. In December 2011, when she was 89, Symphony of the Southwest played her original song, “Holy Child,” at its annual holiday concert at the Mesa Arts Center.
“Music was huge part of her life and she used it to bear her testimony of things she knew to be true. The gospel was the guiding force in her life, and she considered her talents a conduit for the light and truth she felt within,” Laura says. “She had great faith in her Savior, which is evident not only in the music she wrote, but in her words and actions.”
“Mom loved unconditionally and was accepting of people from all walks of life,” Laura continues. “She never quit welcoming people into her family fold and was a second mother to many.”
Milli’s niece, Debbie West Coon, was a recipient of Milli’s love.
“I’m grateful to my aunt Millie for being there for me every time I needed her,” Debbie says. “She was a big part of my life. She was my mentor, my vocal coach, music advisor and editor of my album covers and advertisements. She was ‘the wind beneath my wings.’”
Milli’s grandson, Brian Sandstrom, says, “She saw only good things in people and showed it by always telling them how wonderful and special they were.”
Another grandson, Danny Jones, says, “She has always been a great example of Christ in my life, always serving others, going out of her way to share important messages of forgiveness and love and gentle reminders of what truly mattered on earth while we’re here.”
Surviving Milli is one sister, Wanda West Palmer, Milli’s eight children, Jennifer Sandstrom, Ernest Schurig (Beverly), Alma Schurig (Janet), Sam Schurig (Jan), Irma Bigler, Laura Jones (David), Rita Lee (Mike), and Lisa Wyatt (Wayne), 40 grandchildren and more than 65 great-grandchildren.