Prairie farmer got to live with her ag hero

Prairie farmer got to live with her ag hero
Mar 06, 2023

Sheila Hillmer lived under the same roof as Isabella Miller

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

When asked to name someone in agriculture she considered a hero or inspiration, Sheila Hillmer answered before the writer could finish the question.

“Isabella Miller,” said Hillmer, the current vice chair of Alberta Beef Producers and farmer from near Del Bonita, Alta.

Miller (1941-2007) was a rancher, five-time barrel racing champion, founder of the Canadian Girls’ Barrel Racing Association, and horse trainer. And in 2005 she received an induction into the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

In addition to this, Miller was a single mother of three children and drove a school bus for 15 years to support her family.

Her hard work is among the reasons why Hillmer views her as one of her ag inspirations.

“She was one of the smartest women I knew,” Hillmer said. “She worked harder than anyone I knew. Her talent and expertise helped increase the value of horses to levels we never thought possible. She just set the bar for her ability to step in and do anything at any time with such grace, determination and passion.”

Not only did Hillmer have an opportunity to meet Miller, but she also lived with her for a period of time.

Talking about it now, it still feels surreal to Hillmer, who maintains a connection to Miller’s family through her friendship with Miller’s two daughters.

“Living with Isabella was one of the joys of my life,” she said. “It’s one of those things where if you’re lucky enough to get an opportunity like that, you embrace it. I was like a sponge with her. We just didn’t have enough time with her in this world.”

Hillmer has worn many hats in her ag career.

This includes working off the farm and mentoring young farmers as part of the Canadian Cattle Association’s Young Leaders program.

With multiple years of experience to draw on, Hillmer has a message for young women starting out in ag or looking to pursue a career in the industry:

Don’t let gender stop you from achieving what you want.

“The opportunities in this industry are unlimited,” she said. “Don’t let gender or what your perceptions are of yourself stop you from reaching the goals and desire you set for yourself.”

Pushing towards a goal is also a piece of advice Hillmer would provide to her 12-year-old self.

If the answer to something is “no,” but you feel passionate about the idea or project, push until the answer changes, she said.

“Be brave,” she said. “Don’t ever stop at no if you believe the answer is yes. I used to stop when people said no, I didn’t ever step out and take risks even though I knew in my heart that I should’ve. Let your talents take you where you’re meant to be.”


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