While we were rushing to the Jackson County Courthouse in the searing heat last summer, an oasis disguised as a water fountain appeared on our left.
How many times had we passed this spot without noticing? With our thirst quenched came a moment to pause and look.
The Millard's Chapel of the Rocks and Roses once stood where the Jackson County Justice Center was built in 1979.
The Millard Fountain and Bench stand in front of the Jackson County Courthouse entrance, across from Alba Park, on Oakdale Avenue in Medford.
It is an unusual drinking fountain, wrapped in rock, accompanied by a stone tree snag, and a rock wall bench that is embedded with a large, commemorative metal plate.
"Jackson County Petrified Wood," it reads. "This fountain and seat dedicated to the pioneers of Southern Oregon by D.E. and Vivian Millard."
The hunt was on. Who were the Millards and how long had this fountain and bench been waiting here?
Dell Elias Millard came to Medford in 1919 with his wife, Sylvia Konkle, as minister of the First Christian Church. The couple had met and married in Puyallup, Wash., in 1910. Soon after, Dell gave up being music director for a church and set off to be an evangelist. He graduated from the Minnesota Bible College in 1917 and, before coming to Southern Oregon, had been pastor of churches in Woodland and Glendora, Calif. Before he left Medford for Arizona in 1965, Dell was already warmly known as the "marrying preacher," having tied the knot for more than 1,000 couples. He also had said final words over 3,000 people.
Dell was a man of many interests. He wrote and published hymns and piano sheet music, and he taught music in the Gold Hill, Prospect, Eagle Point, Sams Valley and Medford public schools. He was the voice of the religious "Fireside Hour," one of the first radio programs on Southern Oregon's first commercial radio station, KMED, and he was a real estate broker.
In 1922, in the community that would one day be known as Shady Cove, Dell began selling lots in a subdivision that he named Edgewood Park. Before cabins and homes were built on the land, only "Aunt Caroline" Drexler's farmhouse stood in the area. Today the farmhouse is gone, but Edgewood Park remains.
"The people thought I was crazy," Dell said, "when I put in the first plumbing (instead of outhouses)."
Sylvia died in 1934 after a painful and lingering illness. A year later, in Shady Cove, Dell married Vivian Turner, a writer of more than 300 "inspirational poems." Together they would create a "New Age Church," and to house it they would build the Chapel of the Rocks and Roses on Oakdale Avenue in Medford. It was not a separate faith, Dell said, but "simply acceptance of the New Age in which we live."
For all of his nearly half-century stay in Southern Oregon, Dell Millard's hobby was the petrified wood he collected from all over Jackson County. He created a "petrified forest" of stone at his Shady Cove home and included the rocks in his church.
In June 1945, reading a poem entitled "Rocks" that he had written for the occasion, he dedicated the water fountain oasis, fashioned from his petrified wood.
When both reached age 76, the Millards retired to Arizona. Dell died there three years later. Vivian continued to publish her books of religious poetry until rejoining her husband in 1984 at age 95.
They left us our petrified oasis — a sturdy reminder of two people who loved their life in Southern Oregon.
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at email@example.com.