June 17, 2003 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

People won't be able to walk into Miller's Customs Cabinets any more and say, "I want to see Orville."

After 58 years, more or less, the man in the bib overalls has hung them up for the last time.

Orville Miller — who started helping out by sweeping floors at his grandfather's La Grande cabinet shop when he was 6 or 7 years old and worked his way up to become owner — has retired.

"I retired at the end of May. My last duty was working at the home show at the National Guard Armory," Orville, 65, said during an interview at his home on Walnut Street.

The retirement will be marked by a party Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at First Baptist Church.

"It'll be a busy day for us," said Orville's wife, Bernice. "It's also our 45th wedding anniversary."

About retirement, Orville said, "It seems like a vacation. My routine has been broken. We get up in the morning and instead of going to the shop, we say, ‘What are we going to do today?' "

He walks a lot in the mornings now. In winter, he'll play racquetball.

"And I've got a grandson with a single parent. We do things with him — like going skiing in the winter," he said.

They are also caring for Bernice's parents, who live with them. They are 99 and 92.

"I don't think I will be bored. Besides, Steve said I could come back to work if I wanted to."

Steve is Steve Colkitt, who bought out the business Sept. 4, 1997. In April 2001, Colkitt bought out Tum-a-Lum building supply a block down the street and expanded that lumber outlet. Colkitt kept the cabinet shop and glass shop in the Miller's location and renamed the Tum-a-Lum store Miller's Home Center and Lumber Co.

"I helped Steve flow into the hardware and cabinet area, and he has really built up the business," Orville said.

"I have no regrets about selling. I put in my time and I enjoyed it."

One thing he doesn't have at home is a workshop.

"I never had a cabinet shop here. I was always able to use the saws and things at the store."

He does have some finishing work to do around the house, he said, since they just put in some new windows. He also cuts mats for picture framing.

He is also on the Youth for Christ board at his church, the Church of God.

It was his church and family association that drew him away from

La Grande one of the two periods he was gone from the business in his 58-year association with it.

"I had an uncle who was a full-time missionary. He could come home only three or four months at a time unless he could nd a ‘suitable replacement' for a longer period of time."

So he and Bernice agreed to a year's stint in Trinidad to give the uncle and his family a respite. There, he made ladders, chicken coops and other items to be sold as money makers. Bernice taught school. They took all the belongings they needed in a box 3 feet by 4 feet by 3 feet, including a hobby horse for their daughter, Teresa, who was 3.

His other spell away from

La Grande began in 1960 when he was in the service for three years, serving in Greenland after being trained in Olathe, Kan. Although he was in the Army, the service mistakenly sent him to a Naval Air Station. They let him stay and do office work after he told them he had already rented an apartment for himself and his wife.


Dan D. Miller, Orville's grandfather, started D.D. Miller Cabinet and Hardware Co. in what is now Bogart's Hair Studio. Flattery's Eggs was next door on the corner of Fir Street and Jefferson Avenue, where Alpine Archery is now.

"Then he moved it to the present location" of Miller's Custom Cabinets on West Greenwood, said Orville.

When Orville's father, Dannis, took over the business in the 1950s, Orville continued to be involved.

After 1965, Orville did mostly glass work at the store and in 1978 bought the business from his dad, doing a remodeling that more than doubled the floor space to 14,000 square feet. The store added plumbing and electrical supplies, power and hand tools and other hardware and building supplies.

On Sept. 4, 1997, Orville sold the business to Colkitt but continued to work there.

He hung around, but his role and tasks diminished. He's worked part-time the past three years. It was time to go.

"It became a headache. I'm not a business person. I like to do the public relations and working part, working with people," Orville said.

"I just didn't have any financial responsibility any more. I did my basic waiting on customers, ordered products, wrote up estimates for jobs."

He remembers the move to the present location.

"We set up five different bays across, fronting on Greenwood Street: one for hardware, two for cabinet makers, one for glass and one for storage. Then in 1978 when we remodeled, we took out the walls between the bays and added 6,000 square feet of space in the back."

Other memories linger.

"As a kid, after school, we had some (leftover) wood pieces in a box. I'd put them in a gunny sack and take them to granddad's house to be burned as fuel.

"Early on, I swept floors. In high school, I was mostly a glazier, did glass work, puttying windows, putting in aluminum store-front windows. I worked on furniture, fixing broken chairs and tables. I did stuff cabinet makers didn't have time to do."

He remembers the La Grande flooding of 1965, he said, which flooded the railroad underpass and also flooded the cabinet shop's basement.

"Jefferson Street was a river. We sandbagged the store and had pumps going full blast. But we still got 6 to 8 feet of water in the basement."

To solve the problem they drilled a hole in the basement, but oil from the rail yard flowed in, Miller said.

In the early days, the business had only six workers, including his granddad and dad and an aunt who kept books, two cabinet makers and a glazier. More than 25 people are now employed in the two buildings.

"Dad did everything from a little slip of paper. People would come in and order a screen door made and dad would write that on a slip of paper, putting the price down, too, maybe $2.50, then hang the invoice on a nail."

Now, most things are computerized. And for Orville Miller, time to move on.