John Robert Siller
ANN ARBOR – John Robert Siller, 84, of Ann Arbor, formerly of Houghton and Jacobsville, passed away on August 29, 2016, in Ann Arbor.
John was born to Guy Cundy Siller and V. Marie (nee Brassaw) Siller in Houghton on July 18, 1932. John attended Houghton Public Schools, graduating from Houghton High School in 1951.
After graduating, John attended Dunwoody Industrial Institute (now Dunwoody College of Technology) in Minneapolis. John graduated from Dunwoody in 1953, earning a certificate in general automotive studies.
John then enlisted in the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. John was honorably discharged from the Army in April 1955, after he contracted gangrene in a toe, obtaining the rank of private first class.
During the summer of 1949, John met Roma Bernadine Niemi at Bramer’s Ice Cream Shop and soon they became high school sweethearts. Once Roma completed nursing school, they were wed on October 20, 1956, in Washington, D.C.
After his discharge from the Army, John immediately relocated to Ann Arbor, where his brother, Frank, was starting a family. Frank had been an assistant engineer for the City of Ann Arbor, but left the city’s employ in January 1954 when he realized the underground contractors, whose job sites he was inspecting, were grossing more money in five weeks than he made in an entire year. Frank had encouraged John by claiming, “The streets of Ann Arbor are paved with gold!” Soon Frank was submitting bids on construction projects as he assembled a small crew of men, some of whom had come to Ann Arbor from Houghton.
While still stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, John would drive to Ann Arbor on weekends and work with Frank as they sought to establish Siller Construction Company (John was able to secure weekend passes because a Staff Sgt. stationed at Fort Leonard Wood wanted to visit his family in the Detroit area and John was one of the few enlisted soldiers who had a vehicle at the base).
For over the next 20-plus years, Siller Construction Co./F. J Siller & Co. specialized in excavating, road building, sewer and water main installation and the construction of water treatment plants. John and Frank teamed to become the dominant force in underground construction in the state of Michigan, running up to 26 construction crews scattered over hundreds of miles, stretching as far north as Houghton County and as far south as Ohio and Indiana.
It seemed as if John knew the name of every city manager and engineer in Michigan. Their work was demanding and grueling and at times, very dangerous. As their children would tell you, every day of the year was a work day, regardless if it fell on a holiday or the Sabbath.
John regularly drove more than 120,000 miles each year as he supervised job sites and met with officials of municipalities where the Siller Co. was working. John and Frank believed in purchasing the biggest and best equipment availale.
While their competitors used equipment from P&H, Bantam or Marion, the Siller Co. purchased top of the line equipment such as Bucyrus Erie and Northwest excavators, Caterpillar dozers and Hough loaders, all supported by a host of Autocar tractors and Fruehauf lowboys and tandem trailers. John often commented that he met plenty of intelligent, hardworking people in the construction business, but none more so than Frank.
Sensing that his age was starting to catch up to him, John made a career change in December 1977, when he purchased Stadium Hardware in Ann Arbor. Within months, John brought on Mark Mayne as a partner, explaining, “I know business, Mark knows hardware, we need each other.” John’s son-in-law, Mike Kruzel, soon followed, becoming a partner in 1983.
John lead the expansion of Stadium Hardware in the 1980s by taking over the space formerly occupied by Michigan Chandelier and Campus T.V. John retired from Stadium Hardware in 1992, selling his interest in the store to Jon Norton.
From 1961 to 1982, John and Roma built several duplex rentals in Ann Arbor. They owned and managed the buildings with the assistance of their children. John took great pride in the upkeep and appearance of anything he owned.
It was not uncommon to see him sweeping the sand and debris from the curb along West Liberty Street or Virginia Avenue. He liked to point out that he was the only landlord in Ann Arbor that paid an attorney to cut the grass. John wished that his father had lived to see Siller Terrace Road.
After retiring from Stadium Hardware, John and Roma split their time between Ann Arbor and Jacobsville. They enjoyed their cottage on the Portage Lake Lower Entry. They also enjoyed a large circle of friends in the Houghton, Hancock and Jacobsville areas, some of them who they had known since high school or elementary school.
John enjoyed antique vehicles (as a younger man he restored several antique trucks), researching genealogy and sight-seeing throughout the Upper Peninsula.
More than anything, John enjoyed socializing with friends and family or even a person he met for the first time. He would jokingly quote the line spoken by the actor Sydney Greenstreet in the classic movie, The Maltese Falcon, “I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.”
Due to their declining health, John and Roma relocated to Hillside Terrace Retirement Residence in 2013. After Roma passed away on August 22, 2013, John continued to reside at Hillside Terrace.
John and Roma were both grateful for the assistance they were provided by their children, their children’s spouses and their grandchildren. John and Roma were extremely proud of the adults that had once been their children.
John had a natural mechanical aptitude. He could fix most anything. He had a keen understanding of power and force and how to use each as a mechanical advantage.
John has been described as having a “big personality.” He often spoke loud and laughed even louder. He was quick-witted, clever and had a uncanny, intuitive sense of how to most efficiently complete a complicated task. He enjoyed a good joke, especially if it was slightly risque.
He respected people who worked hard, just as he demanded of himself or his employees. He felt that the death of his father while he was still in high school forced him to assume a great amount of responsibility at a relatively young age.
John’s strongest characteristics were common sense (he claimed to have a Ph.D. in Common Sense from the School Of Hard Knocks) and savoir faire. In describing him, his mother said, “John could convince you that Hell was going to feel like Paradise and that it would only be fair if you paid your own way to get there.”
John is survived by his three children and their spouses, Karis and Michael Kruzel, Kurt and Lynn Siller and Konrad and Beth Siller. He is also survived by his grandchildren, Kiersti and Caleb Kruzel, Diana and John Lamb, Matthew and Marie Siller and Benjamin, Katherine and Lauren Siller. Additionally, he is survived by his great grandsons, Bennett, Clayton, Henrik and Sawyer. John is also survived by his brother, Frank Siller and Frank’s wife, Lily. Furthermore, John is survived by several in-laws, David Boesch of California, Helen Niemi of Arcadian Location, Robert King of Maryland and Dottie Craddock of Minnesota. Lastly, John is survived by numerous nieces and nephews.
John was predeceased in death by his wife of 56 years, Roma; his parents, Roma’s parents, Kalle (“Charles”) Einar Niemi and Hilda Sophie (nee Kallio) Niemi; Roma’s step-mother, Jennie Maria (nee Kangas) Niemi; his twin sisters, Jean Marie Siller and Edna May Siller, who both died within days of their January 23, 1929 birth; his step-father, Arthur (“Bud”) Merrill; and his half-brother, Professor J. Campbell Craddock.
John’s family would like to thank the staff at Hillside Terrace and the Litz family for the care and attention he received. His family would also like to thank Great Lakes Home Health and Hospice for the care he received as he neared his end. In addition, a special thanks is owed to the staff at Holiday’s Restaurant for their service and graciousness provided during John’s weekly Sunday lunch.
Pursuant to John’s wishes, cremation has taken place. A joint memorial service for John and Roma will be held in Houghton during the summer of 2017.
John’s family requested that those wishing to make a donation consider the Salvation Army in Hancock, or the Houghton County Historical Museum in Lake Linden.