Directed by Mary Ellen Will
United States | 1 hr 20 min | 2016
Mildred Horkey Lippens Rye was born and died in rural southeastern Wisconsin where she was a beloved school teacher for forty-three years. She was a strong-willed civilian instructor to the military during WWII, a lover and wife to Andrew Lippens until his early death in 1962, and a wife and companion to George Rye until his death in 1997. Mildred’s passion and life-line was cars. On several Memorial Days she would drive me to no fewer than six cemeteries to visit the graves of her relatives. Mildred’s sharp memories and generous story-telling method brought these people back to life and her recollections enhanced the successful interviews with her. A major exception was her description of her mother, Genevieve, as a good parent. After Mildred’s death I learned that her mother treated her poorly. This film captures Mildred’s teaching career accurately. It began in 1929 in a one-room rural school. She frequently drove students to the one-room school, started the fire in the black pot-belly stove, and taught grades one through eight. A friend recalled that “she had all the problems, but none of the benefits of today’s teachers.” I filmed Mildred on her ninety-fifth birthday in 2007. After we left the beauty salon in the morning, she drove us to a coffee shop. She leaned across the table to tell me that she recently had her driver’s license renewed and that it might now be possible for her to drive her own hearse to her own funeral. She celebrated this birthday with her family. While driving home she shared the idea that she “should change name to ‘tired.’” Mildred died June 17, 2012, ten days before her hundredth birthday. No one saw her driving her hearse to the cemetery. Everyone, however, remembered one of the dearest friends they would ever have.
Mary Ellen Will
Director, Producer, Cinematographer
Mary Ellen Will was born in rural Wisconsin and attended a one-room school in the Town of Johnstown. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin and has chosen to live in Manhattan for the past five decades. After retiring, she took film classes at New York University, producing and directing two full-length documentaries: “Across Three Wildernesses,” a Cambodian story, and “Mildred.”
Mary Ellen spent summers on the family farm in Rock County from 2003 through 2015. She and Mildred Horkey Lippens Rye, a retired teacher, became close friends. In time, and with no persuasion, Mildred, at 95 years of age, agreed to taping interviews and to driving Mary Ellen to cemeteries in pursuit of her family history. Mildred left her century-old imprint on southeastern Wisconsin because of her loyalty to family, friends and country. Thank you to the Beloit International Film Festival for selecting “Mildred” for screening, thereby sharing Mildred’s incredible story with a wider audience.