Leo “Red” Merritt
With Leo “Red” Merritt, there was the right way, there was the wrong way and then there was Red’s way.
This is according to his grandson, Tim Tobey of Greenville, whose grandfather wore many hats in his lifetime — owner of Merritt Auction Service and Merritt Used Car Sales, Golden Glove boxer under the name of Red Kruger, recipient of the Purple Heart, two Bronze Star Medals and the French Croix de Guerre Medal after serving under Gen. George S. Patton in World War II, recipient of the local Marian E. Kemp Outstanding Citizen Award, and the list goes on and on.
Tobey remembers Merritt best as his grandfather and employer. Tobey joined Merritt Auction Service in 1998 and now manages the business along with Merritt’s son, Doug Merritt.
“He was a feisty one,” Tobey said of his red-headed grandfather.
Merritt died Thursday, April 14, 2005, in Florida. He was 82 years old. He had congestive heart failure and kidney failure, according to his family.
When Merritt, past president of the Michigan State Auctioneer’s Association and inductee of the Michigan Auctioneer’s Hall of Fame, would lead an auction, “He totally took command of the situation,” Tobey said. “I grew up listening to him and to me he was the best. It was a lifelong auctioneering study with him.”
Merritt began Merritt Auction Service in 1951 with a friend, Oscar Rasmussen. Doug Merritt of Greenville has worked in the auctioneering business with his father for more than 30 years.
“He’s a tough old guy,” he said. “He had a big heart, he was willing to help anyone. He was a very, very hard worker. The work ethic came up from nothing, being an orphan. He liked people, more than anything. Making money was one aspect of the business, but he liked being around people. That was his thrill in life and I think everyone will agree with that.”
Merritt was an auctioneer aficionado for as long as his eldest son, Greg Merritt of Troy, can remember. “I was five years old when he went off to auctioneering school in Indiana,” he said. To Merritt, happiness was work, according to Tobey. “He loved his family dearly and he loved the auction business tremendously,” Tobey said. “He’s helped a lot of people get into the business. He always made sure his customers were happy. He loved his community. He was pretty strict about how things went, but he was always very fair to his employees. If some employee got in a jam he was there to bail him out or to give him money. He did that for a lot of people.”
Greg’s wife, Kathy Merritt, said she is going to remember Red as a wonderful father and grandfather and for his personality. “He had red hair, that’s how he got his nickname,” she said. “Red was his favorite color, but I’m sure he got the nickname because of his hair. “I know there’s not a soul in the world who doesn’t have a happy memory of him,” she said. “Even when he was so sick, he was telling the nurses that he had to get home because he had some work to do.
“All the people we’ve gone to auctions with and known over the years, they just continue to ask about him today,” Tobey said. “Everybody just seemed to love Red.”
* Reprinted from the Daily News