Five years ago, everything was going great guns for Tim Myer and his son, Tim, Jr. The construction company they’d built from scratch in Greensburg, Indiana, was growing steadily, and the Myers had recently invested in expensive new equipment.
Then on February 26, 2003 tragedy struck: 30-year-old Tim, Jr. slipped under a skid loader Tim was operating and was crushed to death by 2,000 pounds of plywood. He left a widow, Debbie, and four sons, Jacob, Nathaniel, Isaiah, and Mark, ranging in age from 6 years to 7 months.
“It was a terrible period for all of us,” recalls Tim, now 58 “My wife, Esther, and I had served as preachers for The Reaching Light Ministries for over 20 years, traveling around the world on and off, counseling and comforting others. Eventually I’d gotten worn out by the traveling–although I still do a lot of preaching–and started the construction business with Junior. When he was killed at such a young age it was devastating.”
“First I blamed my son,” recalls Esther. “Then I blamed my husband. Then I blamed God.” And, for a while, her husband fell apart. “Tim couldn’t function at all. I’d never seen him like that in 35 years of marriage. He had always been the strong one. He was feeling responsible. At the funeral home, all he could do was cry.”
The wrenching loss was not all the family had to contend with. “The minute Junior died, the business also died,” says Tim, “It was going to be his inheritance. We went from prospering to nothing. I didn’t want to stay in the business without him–there’d have been too many painful reminders. I was working my way out when he was killed anyway–construction work is very physically demanding.
“We found ourselves trying to practice the wisdom we often had extended to others,” says Tim. “But the pain in my mind and gut was excrutiating–being a Christian does not protect you from heartache and worry. Gradually, though, we tried to wrestle with our loss and grief, and one of our sources of comfort was the story of Job. He lost more than perhaps anyone could, but through his questions achieved more complete trust, and we knew that the same God would give us the very same strength.
“We also started writing a book about Junior’s death, which we’re finishing up now and hope to get published. Grieving never ends, of course, but putting feelings into words can help.”
With no income, Tim was soon deeply in debt. “We had five mortgage debts on properties we’d built and were trying to sell, five home-owner policies, taxes, money owed on equipment and trucks, and so on,” he says. “So I started casting around for other work. In the 70s’ I’d occasionally helped out a friend who ran a sign company-we lived in Pennsylvania then–and that gave me the idea to start my own sign company. I’ve built up a real solid relationship with the bank over the years, they lent me $30,000, and I eventually started the new company: Signs by Meyer. (The original name was Signs by Meyer & Grandsons, but Tim felt it needed shortening.)
The store provides signs of every kind, everything from sticker labels and banners to vehicle wraps and electronic displays. And the operation’s been growing steadily-today averaging a couple of hundred jobs and sales of $200,000 yearly. Tim employs two other people. About 2 percent of customers come via the internet.
“Before the kids go to college, we hope they’ll all spend two years in the business,” says Tim, who has a fifth grandson by a daughter in Pennsylvania. “So many young people today have everything handed to them, and I think it would be good training whatever they do in life. They’ve already learned a lot about the operation informally just being around us, so I like to think it’s in their blood a little.
“You can pass on your values to kids in lots of ways. A religious upbringing is the most important, but working at a job is real important too. Things have to be done well and on time. It’s also important the boys get grounded in the practical basics along the way-I don’t want them going through life not knowing how to change a tire or swing a hammer.
“As they get older, we plan to introduce them gradually to different aspects of what we do. We’re thinking the 9-year-old, Nathaniel, might handle the computer end of things, for instance-he already understands the ins and outs of layout work. Matthew, who’s only 5-well-he’s showed a promising knack with a broom so far. Isaiah, 7, could be good in shipping and receiving, and the 11-year-old, Jacob, seems a natural for sales.
Like his brothers, Jacob lends a hand at the store now and then. “I help in different ways, sometimes after school or on weekends,” he says. “Grandpa teaches me how to make signs and do graphics and other things on a computer. He says I’d be good in sales because I like to make money, and he’s probably right. Last year I sold stuff in school-like a piece of gum for 5 cents and small toys-and I was making about $15 a week. But then the teacher found about it, and I had to stop.”
“The boys have a lot going for them,” says Tim. They’ve got good minds and plenty of energy, and they all get A’s and B’s in school. I see many of Junior’s qualities in them. He was admired and liked by a lot of people. I want to take them up to his level.
“After their dad’s death, the boys reacted in different ways. For instance, Jacob kept wiggling his teeth and trying to pry them out at first. He wanted to hurt but didn’t know how to, so he hurt himself. And he recently developed a mouthful of canker sores-so the pain is still there. The dentist said, ‘What traumatic thing has that boy been through?’ We’ve just tried to love them and help them the best way we know how. That’s all we can do. And, of course, we need the same thing ourselves. But things are gradually getting better.
“Junior’s widow, Debbie, went back to school and then got remarried to a great guy, Brad, who shares her religious beliefs, and I’m now bringing him into the business. My two youngest grandsons call him Dad-the other two can’t quite hook into that father thing and call him Brad. But even though they’ve got a stepdad now, I still think it’s my responsibility to help care for the boys. Debbie’s parents are very loving, but they live in California and can’t get here very often. My own father died when I was a teenager, but my mother lives in Pennsylvania and is still going strong at 84. She regularly visits a nursing home and ministers to what she calls the ‘old people.’
“Anyway, I want to leave the boys something they can depend on. That’s why Esther and I’ve hung in there—otherwise we could have moved to Florida and gone golfing and fishing. We recently built a new store, with an apartment for us upstairs, so we’re probably here to stay. I expect I’ll be working ’til the day I die.”