Business & Professional
Orville & Ruth Merillat
The transformative bond between Orville and Ruth Merillat and Huntington University was forged through a common purpose, based on a shared faith.
The Merillats were business leaders and philanthropists, a couple who lived the American dream and lived their Christian principles. In doing so, they blessed both Huntington University and Huntington County.
Most of northwest Ohio is farm country. Orville D. Merillat and Ruth A. Miller were both born into farm families in Fulton County, on the Michigan border. Orville was born May 1, 1916, the seventh among 15 siblings. He learned carpentry as a boy and dropped out of high school after his freshman year to work as a carpenter in and around the Fulton County seat of Wauseon. It was there he met Ruth, who had graduated from high school in Wauseon and was in beauty school. They were married Jan. 19, 1941 – the day after her 20th birthday.
Less than a year later, America was at war and Orville enlisted in the Coast Guard. The Merillats moved to Orville’s San Francisco duty station. But he was soon shipped overseas and Ruth returned to Adrian, Mich. — a few miles north of Fulton County — to be with her mother.
When the war ended, Orville was mustered out as a chief petty officer. He and Ruth settled down in Adrian and wasted no time opening a business. Merillat Woodworking, Inc., supplied custom cabinetry to a booming post-war housing market. Orville provided the design and craftsmanship while Ruth ran the business operations.
Over the next four decades, Merillat Industries grew into the nation’s largest manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, produced by more than 3,000 employees at 10 facilities. The Merillats, both dedicated members of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, dedicated themselves to return much of what they made to faith-based and community causes.
In the late 1960s, the Merillats’ son Richard was a student at Huntington College, supported by the United Brethren denomination. That association evolved into a philanthropic relationship that reshaped the 160-acre campus and continues to this day.
The Merillat Physical Education Center, opened in the spring of 1974, was the first Huntington College structure to bear the family name. In the years that followed, gifts from the Merillat family provided wherewithal for an arts center, dining commons, and library at the school which became Huntington University in 2005. Both Merillats served on the college’s board of trustees and were awarded honorary doctor of humanities degrees in 1978. More recently, Richard Merillat and his wife Lynette, for whom the RichLyn Library is named, established the Merillat Scholars program to provide study grants for United Brethren students, Youth for Christ student leaders, and children of Huntington alumni.
Orville Merillat died in 1999 and his Ruth passed away in 2020. Their legacy endures at Huntington University and several other Christian schools and family-focused institutions that benefited from their support. Orville Merillat was said to have a sign on the wall of his office in Michigan that read: “The only thing I can give you is an opportunity. It’s up to you on how you’re going to use it.” The Merillats’ remarkable life together was testimony to how, through hard work and a foundation of faith, people can do great things with the opportunities they have and realize a vision that will help provide opportunity for future generations.