Love Amongst the Appliances - Bob and Betty Jo Miller

 

A sense of humor. A strong faith. Love of family. Hoosier common sense. Respect for people and each other.  Bob and Betty Jo Miller’s 60 years of marriage and 50 years in business have been guided by these principles. 

Don’t expect a lot of gushing about how much they love each other. It’s obvious they do, but talking about it is not a part of their makeup. In fact, Betty Jo is rather matter-of-fact about the whole thing. “Our marriage has been successful because when we got married (1952) divorce was not part of the equation. When you have that mindset, you do what you have to do to make it work. There were tough times, for sure. There isn’t that same idea when you get married today.”

What’s it like working with your husband: “It tests a marriage,” Betty Jo said with laugh. “It’s not the easiest way to make a living.”

Retirement has not slowed these two down. Except for a recent broken foot, Betty Jo would be playing tennis with Bob, as they’ve done for many, many years as members of the South Bend Racquet Club.  Lisa Miller, their daughter-in-law, who now is at the helm of Bob Miller’s Appliances along with her husband, Chris, said Bob and Betty Jo run around so much they seem more like teenagers. Bob is 87 and Betty Jo is 82. Lisa said Bob still cuts wood and they built a house just three years ago.

The two met back at James Whitcomb Riley High School where Bob’s best friend was Betty Jo’s brother. Bob had left high school to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps during WWII and came back and finished a year ahead of Betty Jo. Although they dated a little after they graduated, she said, “it didn’t go anywhere.”

It took the wedding of her brother – Betty Jo was maid of honor and Bob was best man – for the two to start dating and eventually get married. 

Bob loved playing golf and if circumstances had been different, she said he might have attempted to be a professional golfer. 

He worked at Studebaker and then got into appliance repair. The couple rented several apartments and had three small children in four years. How did that work? “I don’t know how we did it,” she said. “When you’re young you just do what’s necessary.”

Despite Betty Jo’s conservative nature (Lisa and Chris call her frugal), Bob convinced her it was time to start their own business. They had $75 in the bank, a house, and three kids.  She would answer the phones with children at her feet and he rented a service truck and did service calls for $7.

It’s difficult to separate the marriage and the business because they’re so intertwined. Betty Jo often tells a story about how unprepared she was for sales as she tried to demonstrate the features of a refrigerator to a customer. She just kept opening and closing the refrigerator door, saying nothing because she didn’t know the first thing about refrigerators. She and Bob proceeded to learn the business and take sales and marketing courses to educate themselves. 

“If we argued about anything, it was about the business,” she said. “He is the smart one in that regard,” she quickly added. “It was a typical story: you start with nothing and you give it a try.”

Lisa said Bob was way ahead of his time in terms of branding himself and the business. She said he was one of the first to do commercials where he was on camera as the business owner. Now it is commonplace. “There are all kind of retailers, but to me there’s nobody like Bob,” Lisa said. She came from the restaurant industry, where she worked many hours and traveled a lot. She quit that to stay home and raise her children. “I’ll never forget when Betty Jo called me and said ‘it’s time for you to come work for Bob Miller’s’. I responded, ‘but I don’t want to.’“ Betty Jo convinced her that she would honor Lisa’s request that the kids would still come first. 

“I can’t imagine a world without Bob and Betty Jo,” Lisa said, wiping away a tear. “They are such wonderful people.”

Lisa credits their strong faith with their success in marriage and business. She said Betty Jo was raised Catholic and Bob converted. The two are long-time members of St. Jude Parish on the south side of South Bend. It doesn’t matter where they are – home, the lake, Florida, or traveling – they find a way to get to Mass every Sunday.

Bob’s generosity is also something that Lisa touts. She said over the years he has gone downtown and helped homeless men by first offering them jobs doing yard work at their house. If it works out, he will end  up employing them at the store. Despite some people thinking he was crazy, she said Bob has faith in people and believes in helping them take responsibility and contribute to society. 

Chris and Lisa said Bob loves to laugh and make others laugh. He’s always ready with a joke and they sometimes call Betty Jo “Saint Betty” for putting up with him. 

Their six grandchildren mean the world to the couple. “Bob is the kind of grandpa the kids always run to when they come in the house,” Lisa said.