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You don't need to leave to succeed, notes local businessman

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By John Barnhart

Local businessman Ronnie Miller notes that it's not necessary to leave the Bedford area to succeed.

Miller spoke at the local NAACP's annual Freedom Fund banquet, held at the Peaks of Otter Association's building on Shiloh Church Road. Local NAACP branches across the country hold Freedom Fund banquets to celebrate the past and continue the organization's legacy. Proceeds from the Bedford Branch's banquet are used for local scholarships. The NAACP, itself, is at a historic juncture and will celebrate its centennial next year.

Miller runs Bedford Funeral home, the funeral home his parents Frank and Frances Miller started in 1962. Back then it was in the first floor of their home. Ronnie, the youngest of the couple's 12 children, came along four years later.

“He saw the need for a black funeral home in Bedford,” said Miller, when asked why his parents started the business. At that time there were racial tensions in Bedford. Miller said that white-owned funeral homes served black people, but preferred not to.

After graduating from Liberty High School in 1984, Miller took the necessary courses and did an apprenticeship in order to get his state licenses. He ultimately took the management of the business over from his parents, although all the siblings retain ownership.

Frank Miller died in 1997 and Frances Miller passed away in 2004. However the business is prospering and Ronnie Miller said that a major expansion is planned. He expects it all to be ready by 2012, in time to celebrate the business' 50th anniversary.

“My parents believed that by hard work, you could achieve anything you want without leaving Bedford,” Miller said, after stating that his parents never told him he had to leave Bedford to make something of himself.

Miller also wants to help others in the Bedford area's black community. He's looking at ways to promote more black-owned businesses in Bedford. Miller said that he's in the early stages of starting a black business organization that will, among other things, increase community awareness of local black-owned businesses.

He would also like to start a community center for banquets, receptions and family reunions. Miller said that there is currently no such minority-owned facility in the Bedford area.

Bedford Funeral Home is not “the black funeral home.”

“We are here to serve the community, not just the black community,” said Miller.

A representative of the Legacy Museum of African American History in Lynchburg, Miller also spoke to the gathering about a new project. The mission of the Legacy Museum of African American History, according to its Web site is to collect, preserve and store historical artifacts, documents and memorabilia relating to significant contributions of the African American Community in Lynchburg and its environs. That includes the Bedford area.

The project is to document all black people from the area who have served in the military, from the Revolutionary War through the Viet Nam War. They are looking for pictures of veterans, either in uniform or in civilian clothes. They are also seeking medals, plaques, old weapons or any other items of interest. The collection will form an exhibit, called “Much in Demand,” that will open next June.

However, the group needs the materials now. A committee of Bedford area residents has been set up to collect material about local black veterans. People who have something to share about a black veteran who was born and raised in Central Virginia are invited to call Cynthia Hall at (434) 299-5625 or e-mail her at "cynjhall@hotmail.com. She hopes to get as much material as she can by Nov. 14.

The Bedford Branch of the NAACP meets on the first Thursday of each month at Washington Street Baptist Church, in Bedford, at 7 p.m. Alll races are welcome. For more information, call (540) 587-5341 or send an e-mail to BedfordVANAACP@aol.com.