Kermit Miller wears many hats

By Bruce Stambaugh

Kermit Miller sells several different styles of hats in the general store he and his wife, Pam, own in Walnut Creek, Ohio. Civic minded as he is, Miller wears various hats for the community, too.

Born in Millersburg, Miller, 59, returned to his native Walnut Creek after graduating with a degree in business from Heidelberg College in Tiffin. Naturally, he also returned to work at Schlabach’s Store where he was named manager in 1973.

Miller said he had worked for Schlabach’s since he was in the fourth grade.

“I was in charge of parking lot maintenance,” he said in his wry humor. In other words, he cleaned up after the horses.

“I still have to do that,” Miller said. Of course, that is because he and Pam are the only employees and somebody has to do that job.

That may be Miller’s philosophy when he takes off his business owner hat and puts on his water board hat. He keeps that cap close by since people call him at the store with concern and pay their water bills there.

Miller is the president of the Walnut Creek Water Company, a non-profit organization that supplies water to nearly 300 customers in the Walnut Creek area. Miller has served on the board since 1979. In that time he has seen much change with water delivery, including monitoring the water levels.

“It used to be that we knew we had a problem when the tower ran out of water,” Miller said. “Now we monitor the water level electronically.”

The addition of the water treatment plant, thanks to a USDA loan in 2007, was a big help, too, according to Miller. Of course, he put on his research hat to help provide answers to some of the many background questions required to get the loan.

“That took a lot of time,” Miller said. “Of course, I wasn’t the only one who helped with that.”

Cash flow is important to Miller in other ways. That’s another hat Miller dons. He is treasurer of the German Culture Museum, which just relocated from an old wood-framed home into its new headquarters on Olde Pump Street in Walnut Creek.

Miller said the dedication was held on August 14 to coincide with the opening of the original museum, which was August 14, 1982.

“Instead of lots of small rooms,” Miller said, “we now have a 60 by 90 foot open space to properly display historic items from the area.”

The late Ruth Schlabach, the previous owner of Schlabach’s Store, donated the land with the community in mind for the new building, which also houses a community room, township office, and branch library.

“The community provided the donations to pay off the cost for the building in three years,” Miller said. “We are grateful that the library board recently decided to reopen the east branch here.”

Kermit Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
Good deals and a friendly approach has kept a steady stream of customers to Kermit Miller's Schlabach's Store in Walnut Creek, Ohio.

Miller wore his appreciation hat when he nominated local resident and museum board president, Larry Miller, for the Ohio Individual Achievement Award given by the Ohio Local History Alliance. Larry Miller portrayed “Der Weiss” Stutzman at the grand opening of the museum. Kermit Miller did the same years earlier for Roscoe Miller and Ruth Schlabach.

Another hat Kermit Miller wears is his church cap. Miller served on the consistory of St. John’s United Church of Christ for 20 years.

Miller puts on his parent hat when he and Pam visit their three daughters. Karrie Wood lives in Melbourne, Australia. Krystal Hoffman resides in Buffalo, New York, and Korrine Morrow lives in North Lewisburg, Ohio.

Miller said it is easier to visit them now since the decision was made to close the grocery store section a few years ago. Schlabach’s store sells everything from trinkets to toys.

“We knew we could find it here,” is frequently heard in the store, according to Miller. He chuckles in satisfaction that people can find what they want locally when they have searched high and low elsewhere.

There is yet one more hat that Miller is probably known best for. Tucked in the southwest corner of the 6,000 square foot retail store is a very busy camera section. It is what drives the store’s business, according to Miller.

“People come here for the service as well as good deals,” he said. “I know we can’t compete in price with the big boys, but we can more than make up for that in customer service.”

From the steady stream of customers with photo questions and purchases, Miller’s camera hat gets worn a lot.