Learning From Angels Among Us

Millie B

This week my small hometown of Penn Yan, NY lost an amazing woman. Camilla “Milly” Bloomquist was known throughout the town and has served the community for many years. Milly saw need, no matter how small, and recognized it instantly as injustice that must be corrected. She didn’t complain about it and wait for someone else to fix it. She took action. When children and families needed food, she got them food (making it herself, if necessary). When people were cold, she found them coats and gloves (giving them her own, if necessary). She seemed to know how to build systems to allow her efforts to be sustainable, ensuring future families in need would get the same sort of assistance.



Her actions were noticed by many – all the way to the President of the United States. In 2011 Milly was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, presented to her by President Barack Obama. This is our nation’s second highest civilian honor. SECOND HIGHEST. So, what made Milly so special? Well, just ….. everything.


I could try to re-tell the story of Milly, but you can read a little about her award here.  You may want to read about her connection with Keuka College. Maybe you want to watch one of the videos about Milly. But, I’ve been thinking about Milly constantly since I read the news of her passing. My heart is hurting so much, because she loved so much. She didn’t work at caring for people, it’s just who she was.  Quiet. Caring. Giving. Tender. Strong. Steadfast. It occurred to me that there are so many personal stories about how Milly touched lives that aren’t covered anywhere.  Mine that I share here is just one.

Mrs. Bloomquist (as I knew her first), was my elementary school nurse.  She gave me tissues for my bloody nose.  She held warm compresses on my earache.  She spoke to me like a person with feelings and understanding, never as a child. (I think she spoke that way often – with a person, never at a person) She sometimes filled in for absent teachers in the classrooms – because there was nothing she couldn’t do.  I remember the day she really became larger-than-life to me.  She did something amazing – something I could never do.  She stood up to my father. Without hesitation or fear she stood her ground.

By that time, Milly’s outreach efforts had been growing for more than 10 years in our community and were well established.  One of Milly’s hard-and-fast rules about giving to those in need was that no one needed to “prove” that they needed help. My pragmatic and skeptic father believed in giving to those in need, once it was established that they really needed the help and didn’t have other resources. So, Milly and my father stood toe-to-toe on opposing sides of how to manage a food and clothing pantry through the school.  At six-foot, my father towered over her smaller, but sturdy, frame.  Milly looked him in the eye and told him she would NOT make any person who found the strength to finally ask for a little help to ‘prove’ anything to her.  My father pressed on.  “So anyone can just come and ask you for a new coat and you’ll give it to them? They’re just going to use you and then buy crap with the money they didn’t spend on the coat!” he said, sternly. “If they don’t really need the coat, they need someone to believe in them.  Either way, they’re better for what we’ve given them.” With that she turned away, confidently.  Milly won.  My father never did agree with her methods, but he didn’t argue anymore.  He knew it was pointless.  Milly became a superhero to me that day. She believed in her ways and held-fast to that belief, defending it when needed. I think that’s the first my eyes were opened to the work she did (besides taking my temperature when I didn’t feel well), and the level of need in our community.

Milly always seemed to find the silver lining.  When Milly’s Pantry was broken into and robbed a few years ago, Milly commented that the thieves must have needed the coats and cash more than she did.  She dusted off the broken bits and went on.  Just went on with her work.  She never seemed disheartened by the setbacks. She wasn’t discouraged by the fact that she worked at this for over 50 years and still had more to do. She went up against politicians, bureaucracy and other challenges strongly, but kindly. I didn’t know it was possible to fight politely, but that’s what Milly did.  She stood firm when it was needed, but always treated her opponents with respect. I don’t think I’ve known anyone so established and comfortable in her calling. She found her purpose and lived into it more fully than I knew possible.

Thank you to Milly for all she gave to every member of Penn Yan and Yates County.  We are all better off for having you in our little corner of the world.  Thank you to her family for sharing her with so many others.  That could not always have been easy.  Thank you to all those who listened to and learned from Milly over the years and will carry on the loving work she did.

Please visit and consider giving to: Milly’s Pantry.  Keep the gift going.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Website Built with WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: