August 19, 2020
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Mrs. Ruth Merillat died this afternoon surrounded by her family in Charlevoix, Michigan. She was 99.
As a seven-year-old girl, Ruth accepted the call to follow Jesus Christ, her source of hope and life. Today, she is worshiping and celebrating her Creator in heaven and is reunited with her husband, Orville, for the first time since his departure in 1999.
Ruth was born January 18, 1921 to Wilbur and Edna Meller on their farm east of Wauseon, Ohio. She learned the value of hard work as a young girl as she and her older sister helped her father run the family farm. During her senior year of high school, she spent time with friends at a local ice cream parlor. One day, a young man from the small village of Tedrow, Orville D. Merillat, happened to be in the parlor and was immediately taken by her. He asked Ruth to go out with him, and she said no to his first few requests. Eventually, she gave in to the persistent young man’s request and went on a date.
After high school, Ruth moved to Toledo where she attended beauty school. Upon her graduation as a beauty operator, she remained in Toledo working at a local beauty parlor. Over the next two years, Orville drove to Toledo on the weekends to visit Ruth and continue his courtship. On January 19, 1941, they were married in a small wedding surrounded by family and friends.
For God and Country
Over the next eleven months, Ruth and Orville made their home in Wauseon. On December 7, while driving home from a meal with church friends, they heard over the radio about the attack on Pearl Harbor. They knew their lives and their world would never be the same. Mr. Merillat signed up to serve in the Coast Guard where he was offered the opportunity to serve as a first-class carpenter. His first station was in San Francisco, California, where they moved after his basic training.
While in San Francisco, Ruth was hired at a small factory that repaired damaged fighter planes. The planes would arrive with bullet holes, and Ruth worked as a riveter to repair the holes and return the planes to active service. Orville’s unit was later deployed on a Navy LST (Landing Ship, Tank), which delivered troops and tanks to various islands in the Pacific ocean. Knowing that Orville’s deployment would last years, Ruth moved to Adrian, Michigan, joining her mother who was employed in a local factory.
A Small Cabinet Shop
Over the next few years, while separated by thousands of miles, they saved their wages in hopes that someday they could begin to pursue their dreams. After Orville was discharged from the Coast Guard in October of 1945, Ruth and Orville purchased a small lot on Springbook Avenue in Adrian where they would later fulfill their dream of owning a small cabinet shop. They began building a 60 by 40-foot structure the following spring. Ruth served as the first bookkeeper because it was a subject she loved in high school. They opened for business on September 1, 1946 with a simple plan, “If it was made of wood…we would make it,” Ruth said.
While in the process of building, the young couple welcomed their only child, a son, Richard, in June of 1946. Richard would grow up learning every aspect of the family business. “He grew up too fast,” Ruth said. “He was always working with us, sweeping the floor when he was little.” Richard would later become the president and lead the family business to unparalleled success. “He enjoyed the business,” she said.
After Orville’s health started to decline in the 1980’s, Ruth and Orville decided it was time to retire from leading the family business and invest their time and attention into their new dreams of supporting Christian education and starting a Christian ministry for youth and family.
New Dreams Realized
In 1977, Ruth and Orville co-founded Trenton Hills Christian School, now Lenawee Christian School, led by their desire to see children raised with an understanding of life through a biblical worldview and to value our country as a place where we can worship God without fear or persecution. “We felt it was important to have a godly foundation in the lives of our youth so that their influence in the future will help our country stay strong and grounded in the truth and strength of the Lord,” Ruth said. “On a personal note, we wanted all these things for our granddaughters who were very young at the time the school started. We realized that the good we wanted for them was also the good we wanted for all youth everywhere. So we invested some time and money to establish a Christian school that we hope will produce significant, Christian leaders in Lenawee County and literally throughout the world.”
Testing God’s Promise
Ruth’s work as bookkeeper, wife, and mother was secondary to their involvement in their ministry. “Church was the priority in our life. We got such a blessing from helping, which made us work harder. We wanted to do more [to help the Church]…and we made sacrifices to do it.”
During her life, Ruth and Orville used their time, talent, and treasure in service to the Lord all over the world. They desired to see as many people as possible come to know Christ through church ministry, education, healthcare, and in support of healthy families. Their faithfulness to support the work of the Lord around the world stemmed from the challenge found in Malachi 3:10, which says,“‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it,’” (NIV)
They faithfully tithed and tested God’s promise and God fulfilled it. During Ruth’s life, she certainly saw financial and corporate success, but those successes merely were supports to their true goals, to see people grow closer to Jesus Christ and to lay a godly foundation in the lives of future leaders. As a result of Ruth and Orville’s work in ministry, she saw thousands of students develop an understanding of life through a biblical worldview, hundreds of thousands of lives improved at the Christian Family Centre they founded, and countless lives touched through the colleges, hospitals, churches, ministries, and universities they supported. “We wanted to make a difference,” Ruth said.
Leaving a Legacy
Today, Ruth Merillat received her eternal reward, to be together with her Savior, Jesus Christ, in her heavenly home. She leaves behind her son, Richard, his wife, Lynette, their three daughters, Wendy R. (Craig) Lyon of Naples, FL, Collette C. Merillat of Northville, MI, and Tricia (David) McGuire of Ann Arbor, MI, and seven great-grandchildren.
“As the co-founder of our ministry, we are so incredibly thankful for the heart of service, example, and care that Ruth exemplified during the time we shared with her on Earth,” said Dr. Jim Colman, CEO of Lenawee Christian Ministries. “For nearly a century, Ruth lived in service to Christ, and in love toward others. The true impact of Ruth’s life will never be known, this side of heaven, but we know that the lives of anyone who knew her are forever changed because of her leadership, love, kindness, and selflessness.”
A Request from the Merillat Family
In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Ruth Merillat Memorial Scholarship Fund at Lenawee Christian School. Donations can be made online below or via mail to LCS Advancement, 111 Wolf Creek Hwy, Adrian, MI, 49221.