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Orville and Bernice Miller will celebrate their 55th anniversary later this year after becoming engaged in 1956. The couple first met in 1953 at Pioneer Park Church of God, now known as Crossroads Community Church. Bernice, whose maiden name was Opp, was a junior at McLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater and Orville was a sophomore at La Grande High School. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
by DICK MASON / The Observer
Bernice Opp thought her boyfriend, Orville Miller, was acting a bit curiously the evening of Oct. 9, 1956, when he came to pick her up at an Eastern Oregon University residence hall.
“He seemed nervous,’’ she said.
Bernice, after walking with Orville from her dormitory to his car, could not understand why he had locked the doors of his car but then left the windows down. Still, Bernice suspected nothing.
“I was in such a good mood that it didn’t bother me,’’ she said.
Bernice thought all Orville had planned that night was a drive with her to Imbler to buy apple cider at a home. Then Orville turned on to a dark, lonely country road between Imbler and La Grande. The detour is one which forever shaped the couple’s lives.
Orville parked his car and then reached under his front seat. Suddenly the reason for Orville’s case of nerves became apparent. He pulled out a box with a diamond ring and proposed to Bernice.
“It was a complete surprise to me and the most breathtaking one one I’ve had,’’ said Bernice, who instantly accepted Orville’s proposal.
News of the engagement did not travel at text message speed in the pre-digital age of 1956 but it spread quickly. After arriving back at her residence hall, an excited Bernice told a few friends the news before walking up to her floor where a party was ongoing. Word of her engagement beat her to the party.
“When I walked onto my floor, everyone sang a song congratulating me,’’ Bernice said.
That evening was a red-letter one for a romance which had started about three years earlier and continues to this day. Orville and Bernice will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary on June 22.
Bernice and Orville had no clue they would become lifetime sweethearts when they first met in 1953 at Pioneer Park Church of God, now known as Crossroads Community Church. Bernice, whose maiden name was Opp, was a junior at McLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater and Orville was a sophomore at La Grande High School.
Romantic sparks did not fly immediately for the couple — Bernice already had a boyfriend. Later, the boyfriend, who was in the U.S. Navy, sent Bernice a “Dear John” letter, causing her to begin looking for a new sweetheart.
Bernice, by then a freshman at Eastern, began taking an interest in Orville, who she saw every Sunday at church.
“I turned on my charm,” she said.
Their courtship began in 1953 when Orville asked Bernice to go with her to a play at Eastern.
Bernice later graduated from Eastern, with a degree in education, and began a career as an elementary school teacher in the La Grande area. Orville continued working at his family’s store, Miller’s Cabinet Shop. He and Bernice bought the store in the mid-1970s. The Millers, who have a son, Doug, who lives in Denver, and a daughter, Teresa, who resides in La Grande, sold their business in 1997.
The Millers speak like they would not trade their 54-1/2 years of marriage for anything, but admit they have faced their share of personnel challenges, the type which come with everyday life. The couple view these philosophically.
“To get to the mountains, you have to go through valleys,” Orville said.
The couple is bound by an uncommon love and personal chemistry but joke that they have many differences.
“They say opposites attract,” Bernice said.
Orville loves spicy foods but Bernice does not. She enjoys attending concerts but he does not.
“What’s a concert?” Orville asked with a grin.
Bernice would like to dance but does not because it does not interest Orville. Her husband jokes that he does have a favorite dance.
“I do the elevator dance. It has no steps,’’ he said.
The many things the couple have in common include strong ties to their church.
“Our faith has kept us strong,” Orville said.
Through Crossroads Community Church, the Millers work together on many projects. They have included trips to Mexico where they have helped build homes for people in need.
Orville jokes that despite a few personality differences he and Bernice think in synchrony.
“We are of one mind, it is hers,” Orville said with a big smile.
All kidding aside, the Millers do not know what they would do without one another. Orville said he would be lost without Bernice and she feels the same about her husband.
“Without him, I’d fall apart in a few hours,” she said.