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Minnesota West professor hosts book signing Thursday

WORTHINGTON -- David Mills, a history, economics and political science professor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, will host a book signing and reception at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Worthington campus in celebration of his first...

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Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON - David Mills, a history, economics and political science professor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, will host a book signing and reception at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Worthington campus in celebration of his first published book, “Cold War in a Cold Land: Fighting Communism on the Northern Plains.”

The book sheds light on how the Cold War played out across the Great Plains of North Dakota, South Dakota and northern Montana. The subject was actually Mills’ dissertation in 2005 while attending North Dakota State University in pursuit of his Ph.D. In the past decade he continued his research into the Cold War’s impact on religion, politics and the people of the Great Plains.
Mills, who served in the Army during Desert Storm and Desert Shield, said he is interested in the Cold War era from military and history standpoints. When his NDSU professor asked Mills to do his dissertation on the subject, he started by researching missiles and air bases but found many other subjects that could be expanded upon for the book.
“It’s about the people - that’s what separates this book from other books on the Cold War,” Mills said.
The dissertation was completed in 2009, and Mills said he had to walk away from it for a while - it was just too overwhelming. A few years later, he picked up the paper and began to work on developing it into the book.
“The objective was always that this would eventually be a book,” said Mills, adding that he has wanted to write a book ever since watching John-Boy on “The Waltons” TV show. “I always thought that was the direction I wanted to go, but I didn’t know how to do it.”

Mills worked with the University of Oklahoma Press to publish the book - a process that spanned about 18 months and included several edits and revisions in addition to those Mills did before submitting the book for consideration.
“I had way too much political stuff in the dissertation, so I cut that down to one chapter instead of two or three,” Mills said, adding that the book also includes chapters on religion and patriotic programs - topics that weren’t in the dissertation.
One chapter also focuses on freedom and the freedom trains that traveled the country to share some of the founding documents - including the Declaration of Independence - with the public.
“Pierre (S.D), Fargo and Minot (N.D.) all set attendance records for the number of people going through the train in a day,” Mills said. “It didn’t really matter the population of the city, but the neighborliness of the people. You could make the observation that folks in the Great Plains must have been neighborly … they didn’t dawdle and let people go through the train.”
Mills’ first copies of “Cold War in a Cold Land” arrived last week, and Mills said his reactions to holding the book for the first time were mixed.
“I was elated that the thing is finally a reality, but there was also the realization that now the thing is out of my hands,” he said. “People are going to read it and some people are going to hate it, and there’s nothing I can do about that.
“At the end of the day, it’s a project I did and I’m pretty proud of it,” he added. “It represents an investment of time, money and emotion. It’s very humbling too, to have my project - out of many, many others - get published. I’m very thankful of all of the folks that helped me along the way.”
Mills is in his sixth year of teaching at Minnesota West. The Maryland native taught at Ridgewater Community College in Hutchinson, and Chadron State in Chadron, Neb., prior to his move to Worthington. His wife, Ann, is in her fifth year teaching biology at Minnesota West, and he gives her much credit for his ability to become a published author and college professor.
Mills was working for Target in the Twin Cities when he entered the Ph.D. program at NDSU. At one point, he decided to quit his job and pursue his dream of teaching history, with the complete support of his wife.
“Sometimes we came to a point where, at the end of the month, we were wondering where the mortgage payment was going to come from,” said Mills, adding that something would come up - either a speaking job for him or a check arrived in the mail and they made it work.
“It seems like every time things got pretty desperate, our prayers got answered,” he said. “It seems like this was the right path - it seemed like this was the right idea.”
Now, with his first book in hand, Mills is pursuing ideas for a second book. He plans to submit a proposal soon to the University of Oklahoma Press on a book focusing on the blizzards of 1949.
“There were 18 different snowstorms in 27 days that hit the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain states,” he said, adding that the book will include stories about how people reacted to being snowed in.
“It’s also an examination of how far we’ve come socially and technologically,” he said. “Most of these snowstorms were a complete surprise because we didn’t have weather forecasting. There was so much snow that ranchers couldn’t get to their livestock, so the military dropped millions of tons of hay to starving livestock on the plains.”
As he plans the stories for his second book, Mills looks forward to sharing his first book with readers.
During Thursday’s book signing, Mills said “greatly discounted” books will be available for purchase. He will give a presentation about the book at 6:30 p.m., with a reception and book signing at 7:30 p.m.
Mills’ book is available at the Minnesota West book store, as well as online at both Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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