Learning and teaching would probably best describe Vi Hills’ whole life. She was born in Great Falls and grew up in a family of ten plus two uncles living on a farm outside of Dutton, MT. At the age of seven, the family moved to a ranch near Great Falls. She was the first girl born in the family, following seven boys. With this many siblings you learn how to get along, share, take care of the earth, fields, animals, gardens and family. Weeding the garden was everyone’s chore when needed, like a field size potato patch. They raised cattle, pigs, turkeys, geese, guineas, two hundred chickens, grain and gardens. Everything was preserved or stored in the root cellar or “dark room” for the winter months. Wheat was traded for flour at the Sapphire Flour Mill in Great Falls. Monday was baking day for the 22 loaves of bread needed for the week.
In her early years on the ranch, the family made do without an indoor toilet. The bath tub was a stock tank set up in the basement. Though some things were in short supply, there was plenty of love, good times and food. One of the uncles living with the family dug a large hole in a creek that ran near the house. This served as a swimming pool in the summer and an ice skating rink in winter.
After graduating from Great Falls High, Vi attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota, later transferring to MSU, Bozeman. She started out in pre-med. At one time she told a friend that her vision of hell was teaching 1st grade. Well, she ended up teaching 1st grade, by choice, and that became her favorite grade level. She taught in Three Forks, Guam, Joplin and was principal in Chester for 21 years, retiring after 7 years as principal in Laurel.
Vi married and has two daughters. One lives in Denver and is a lawyer and the other lives near Great Falls working in oncology and running her equine center, WALKERS ON WATER, (look it up on facebook). She has one grandson, age 17.
You can tell from the above how Vi started gardening. She remembers helping her mother can 100’s of jars of fruits and vegetables, most of which were in two quart jars. The family even went to Idaho in an old truck to bring back fruit to preserve. Before harvest her mother made sure there were at least 40 pies ready in the freezer.
In 2006 Vi retired and heard about Master Gardeners. Even though she grew up on a farm she doesn’t remember hearing about soil tests or the science behind good crops and she was interested in that part. She also wanted more knowledge about pruning correctly, when to fertilize and water. She has loved working in the soil, meeting great people, sharing information and making good connections with different knowledge is priceless to her.
Vi has a “to die for” yard and her care and enthusiasm shows in everything she does. Her advice to newcomers is “if you are wondering about growing something, just do it. Give it a try.”
We are so lucky to have Vi as a partner on the Master Gardener team.
Submitted by Sheri Kisch