Who would guess that the Peoria scrap business would be a good place to find love?
One may not think that love could be found among competing family businesses, yet that’s exactly where John and Joy Miller found it. Both of their families owned businesses in Peoria’s scrap industry—John’s specialized in metals, while Joy’s focused on recycling cardboard, paper, rags and barrels. Both companies did work with some metals, and the Millers said that helped to unify the two families. Joy reported that, at gatherings, “junk talk was a norm. Everyone got along, and [our fathers] tended to enjoy having mutual issues to discuss.”
Competition in the Yards
Back then, “we were competitors, but we all had our own specialty and we respected each other and were able to thrive through some very difficult years,” said John. According to Joy, most of Peoria’s junk yards were owned by Jewish families that had immigrated to the United States from Russia or Germany before the Great Depression.
John’s grandfather opened an auto parts business in Farmington after coming over from Russia in 1910. John’s father and uncle joined their father after moving to Peoria in the ‘20s, and slowly changed the focus of the business from auto parts to scrap iron and metal. The family eventually owned four different scrap yards in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, which provided a good amount of scrap during the war years. Their hard work and dedication helped the business prosper.
In the early 1900s, Joy’s grandfather started I. Erlichman Co., the largest paper and cardboard yard in the area. The business was later passed down to his son, Joy’s father, and then to Joy’s cousin, who sold it to an Iowa-based company.
According to John, the Peoria scrap yards slowly began to close, but a few did survive through the ‘70s and ‘80s. The consolidation of those that remained began in the ‘90s. Due to tough economic times, most of the local, family-owned scrap yards, including the Erlichmans’, were bought by larger scrap companies. A. Miller & Co. and Allied Iron and Steel, both owned by John’s family, are the only family scrap businesses in Peoria that survived.
“Consequently,” he said, “because of the business environment now, the competition has become much less friendly—totally different from the days of the many scrap-yard owners who knew each other and got along even though they were in the same business.”
Destined to Be Together
Although John and Joy were in the same kindergarten class at Thomas Jefferson School—and were pictured together in the Journal Star petting a goat—they did not remember one another. “We knew each other, but we really did not know each other,” Joy explained. “Our parents were not close friends, and we went to different religious congregations within the Jewish community, as well as different high schools in Peoria.” But it seemed that the two were destined to be together.
Joy jokes that John’s father paid her off to go on a date with John, and John claims that Joy’s father was the one to offer a bribe. “Neither of those stories is true,” Joy clarified, “nor did we date as a means of creating a junk mogul empire in Peoria!”
Apparently, the way it really happened was John decided to ask Joy out after seeing her in front of her family’s business. They went on two dates and didn’t see each other for a while. About six months later, Joy moved into her first apartment while working as a teacher at St. Philomena School. “And guess who ended up living in the same apartment complex…John!” They began to date again, and were soon engaged to be married. The rest, as they say, is history. iBi