By Karen Middleton
ATHENS — An Athens couple well known in the local arts community was killed Saturday in a head-on collision in Lake Wales, Fla.
Richard and Mildred Mullins Ploss were on vacation when the wreck occurred. Monday, friends and associates in Spirit of Athens, Athens State University and the Limestone County Juvenile Probation Office expressed shock and grief over the loss of the couple.
According to a report by the Lake Wales Police Department, a 1999 Ford Explorer, driven by Kyle Hanson, 24, of Lake Wales, was westbound on Highway 60, when he crossed the centerline for an undetermined reason and, after sideswiping another eastbound vehicle, hit the Ploss’s 2012 Honda Fit head-on.
The report went on to say Richard Ploss, 69, was declared dead on the scene. Mildred Ploss, 60, was airlifted to Lakeland Regional Center where she died. Hanson was slightly injured, according to the report, and the wreck remains under investigation.
“My heart is heavy,” said Spirit of Athens Director Trisha Black in a Facebook message. “Mildred was always a ray of sunshine, hard worker and an inspiration that no matter your age you can accomplish your dreams.”
Richard displayed his paintings at the June Art Stroll around the Limestone County Courthouse. Mildred served as volunteer coordinator for Athens Art League.
Friends say the Plossers had been married since 1997 and had nine children and 12 grandchildren between them.
Richard Ploss’s daughter, Dawn Ortiz, was in Florida Monday making arrangements, she said.
“We will have the funeral in Dothan and a memorial service in Athens, later,” said Ortiz. “We’re just now processing the information.”
Ortiz said her stepmother was from the Hartford area outside of Dothan and that her father was “from all over.”
“We moved from Erie, Pa., to Dothan, but we lived all over,” she said. “We had lived in the Dothan area for many years and that’s where I graduated.”
Ortiz further said, “I think I speak for everyone when I say that we loved them very much and we knew without a doubt how much they loved each other.
“Although I was not her biological daughter, Mildred was a mom to me. My Dad was a wonderful man and they taught us all how to live life to the fullest. We will miss them terribly.”
Mildred was employed as community service director for the Limestone County Juvenile Probation Office and she was a recent Athens State University graduate, having studied Behaviorial Science.
Chief Probation Officer Robert Valls said Mildred had worked for his office for two years after having completed a 6-month internship through the ASU justice studies class.
“We’re just very, very upset – completely shocked,” said Valls on Monday. “This has hit us like a ton of bricks. Mildred did a great job, she had great relationships with the staff here and with the court system. She will be sorely missed. She had a heartfelt commitment to working with the youth of this community.”
According to Athens Art League board member Diane Lehr, the Plosses bought a home in Lester after coming to Limestone County several years ago.
“She said she loved the town of Athens,” said Lehr. “She called it a place where she felt at home … She said she'd felt more at home in Athens than anywhere … Mildred was someone who was living the dream, defying the odds and breaking free of convention to move to Athens to seek her degree in her late 50s. I hate to lose her beautiful energy. I already feel the void. My only consolation in all this is that they were together.”
Lisa Milby, community outreach coordinator for Athens Arts League and a personal friend said, “Everyone loved Mildred and Richard. They seemed like the perfect couple, always seeking to express their faith in ways that showed it rather than preached it. Richard created Holy Spirit paintings and always sought God's blessing on the paintings he created.”
Bree McConnell, Athens Arts League president, said, “Mildred was making such an impact on the community and with children of all walks of life. She was a force and she will be greatly missed.”
ASU spokesman Guy McClure said Mildred was a member of Leading Edge Institute, an honor afforded recent graduates who show “exemplary leadership,” as well has having been an Athens State University Ambassador, serving as hostess at many functions.
“She was always available, very active and very responsible,” said McClure. “She took to heart the mission of the school. She was very well liked and was a member of the Young Alumni Advisory Council.
“Everyone at ASU is very saddened.”