Russ and Katherine Rheaume are just as much in love with Milford as they are with each other. Married for 23 years, Russ, 67, and Katherine, 55, will celebrate another anniversary this Fourth of July as it will mark their 10th year in charge of the Milford Fourth of July Parade on Main Street. Russ is a former president of the Milford Historical Society while Katherine is a former recording secretary for the society. Originally from Livonia and now residing in Brighton Township, Russ and Katherine can usually be seen volunteering in their spare time for various causes, whether it’s fund-raising for PBS or selling used books. In their professional lives, Russ runs a special detective agency called Special Inquiry Company in Milford while Katherine serves as the company’s office manager. The company specializes in investigative and trial preparation work with licensed private investigators and licensed insurance adjusters. Russ and Katherine spoke to the Spinal Column Newsweekly about their love of Milford, how they keep their relationship strong, and the challenges of being a private detective.
This Fourth of July will mark your 10th year in charge of the Milford Fourth of July Parade. How did this event become such a labor of love for the both of you? Describe what your first year in charge of organizing the parade was like and what lessons you learned over time.
RR: Actually, it started off when we were just watching a TV show and all of a sudden we got a phone call from someone from the (Milford) Historical Society asking, “Would you like to do the parade?” and I said sure. So it was like a quick response, we didn’t realize what it was. But once we started doing the parade, we started getting to know the people involved in the community and it became more and more fun.
(In our first year) first of all, we had a lady named Sue Fleming, I believe. She ran it before us, and so she helped us the first year. Over the years, we’ve kind of streamlined a little bit, so now it’s running a lot smoother, but she helped us immensely in the beginning.
KR: The first year that we did it, we hadn’t even seen a parade before at Milford, so it was the total learning curve on that one. We were happy that it turned out so well.
You both served the Milford Historical Society with Russ as the president and Katherine as the recording secretary. How did you both become involved with the society and what did you both want to bring to the table as far as increasing its visibility?
RR: Well, as you know, when people get older, history becomes more and more important to them. So originally a friend of ours suggested we join the Historical Society. We belonged to the Livonia Historical Society before moving here and we enjoyed it very much, so now we got into the history of Milford and (are) just enjoying ourselves.
KR: I had a lot of family members that were from Milford, so I found it really interesting finding out about the past and the (community) and things like that.
How did you both meet and what was your first date like? How did your relationship progress over time?
RR: I lived in Livonia on 3.5 acres and it was kind of like a remote little house way in the back. Behind me was Rotary Park and I used to go to this building shop down the road and I saw this little sign at the (Knights of Columbus) hall and it said “Singles Dance.” The first time, I skipped it, and I looked again a couple weeks later and there was this little sign again. So we went to the (Knights of Columbus) hall and I walked in the door and I only saw a few people there, so I decided to leave and I went into the bar and had a drink.
All of a sudden I could hear the music and so I said, “Oh, what the heck.” I went back in and talked to several people. I saw these two girls sitting at this table and I asked them if they talk to strange men and one of the girls said, “We talk to anything that’s breathing.” So I knew I had a couple live ones there and I sat down and they were both named Kathy. One was from England, one was from here, and they both worked together at a mortgage company and that’s how we met.
And I noticed we both had guinea pigs and we were both raised Catholic, so we had a commonology there.
She was working for Fireman’s Fund Mortgage and eventually she started working for me. I figured, “Why should I have somebody else work as a secretary or office manager?” So Kathy started working with me and we love animals. Both of us love animals. At the time, I had 34 rabbits and eight cats and a couple dogs. Now we’ve moved from there, now we’re on 10 acres and I tease people. I tell them I have three dogs, a cat, a gecko lizard and a wife.
What was the first cause that you volunteered for and how did you get involved with it? What have been some of your other favorite causes over the years?
KR: I started volunteering at the library. They have a bookstore inside the library and it raises funds to pay for the programming and I started working there. And Russ, ever since I’ve known him, (he) has been singing in nursing homes. Once we moved out here, he started singing, first at one, then two, now he sings at three different nursing homes.
RR: And then we joined the Historical Society. A friend of ours suggested that, so we started there and Kathy was on the board. And she met a fellow named Bill Schimmel; he was another member of the board. He and I kind of clicked together. We were at a home tour in Milford and I was singing. I have a skunk hat that I wear and I sing a lot of sing-along songs and I have fun.
And he started singing right behind me and eventually he started singing with me at the nursing homes and at different functions, Civil War (reenactments), all kinds of different things. We called ourselves “The Milford Historical Society International Symphony” and we had a good time. He just passed away, so half of the “symphony” is gone, now but I’m going to continue on.
KR: Every three months, (Channel 56/PBS) has a fund-raiser and Russ and I go and we work the phone banks where people call in. We take down their information for donations. We’ve been doing that for about five years now and we really like it. Everyone is so friendly and it’s just five hours once a week and then goes like for sometimes four, sometimes three weeks, so it’s nice.
How important has living in Milford been to the both of you?
RR: This year, the theme for the (Fourth of July) parade is “Milford: A Little Piece of Heaven.” I made up that little quote and to me, Milford is. It’s a nice little town. It’s tucked in a valley and they’ve maintained the quaintness of the old Milford. A lot of the houses and stores are set up to be like 1890 or 1900 and I just love the smallness of it. There’s a lot of stores and everything is just a little piece of Heaven.
KR: I agree. I’ve always loved Milford and I liked that it changes, but it still stays the same. I like that about it.
You run a special detective agency called Special Inquiry Company. What kind of work does that entail?
RR: It’s a full-scale detective agency. I’m a member of the Michigan Council of Private Investigators and we handle workers’ (compensation) fraud, insurance fraud, locating witnesses, interviewing witnesses. We do adoption find. Sometimes people want to find their biological parent or biological sibling. We locate the missing persons, we do domestic cases, we do divorces.
Some of them turn out happy, some of them turn out very sad. Most of the time when I meet a client on a domestic case, I’ll meet them at one of my many offices; they’re called “Caribou,” “Starbuck’s” or “Panera Bread” or any place where they have a vanilla latte. I meet them there and I get the information from them and we go from there. We try to cover all our bases and not leave any loose ends. I try to give them their money’s worth, I’ll put it that way.
It’s not like on TV. No. 1, you don’t see two guys in a car staring at somebody coming out the door. If we do a surveillance, you have to be very discreet. A good detective gets in and gets out; you don’t know that he’s there. A lot of times, especially on surveillance, you’re in a hot van in the summer or a cold van in the winter and you’re watching people and you have to be very careful. You don’t want to be discovered.
If you are (discovered), I always say you can go away and come back another day. On TV, the detective is always getting beat up. If you’re getting beat up every week, you’re doing a very, very bad job. You always try to stay out of any altercation because if you win, you lose nowadays — somebody will sue you or whatever.
Most of the time when we do surveillances, and that’s what we do a lot of, we always tell the police we’re going to be there, but sometimes you can’t. It depends on the situation.
I’ve had a gun pointed at me a couple times. Believe me, when a barrel is looking at you, it’s pretty big, but I always try to diffuse the situation. I always try to find some commonality with the person, whoever it is. For example, if I go into somebody’s home in the inner-city to get a statement, I will try to find something nice that they have in their house and compliment them on it and kind of gain rapport with people. That’s the way you’re going to get better results.
What do you believe has been the key in keeping your relationship strong over the years?
KR: That’s what I would say, a really good sense of humor.
RR: We have lots of fun, our commonalities. We enjoy where we live. We live on 10 acres, we have a pond and I like working outside, doing a little bit of landscaping. We’re very good at growing weeds here.
KR: But I think one of the big things is we honestly just enjoy each other’s company.
RR: One thing I notice is whenever I see Katherine, wherever I am, if I’m walking into a store and there she is, we both smile at each other and I think that’s very important.
What plans do you have for the future and do they include more volunteer work?
KR: I see us volunteering for many years to come, maybe not the parade, but different things. And it’s very important as you have more time. I think it’s very important to give back.
RR: Kathy and I both volunteer at this little book store called Friendly Finds and I like it because I can get first dibs on some of the books that come in. These are all used books. We get them for a quarter or 50 cents or $1 and a lot of times they’re brand new after one person just read them.
And we’ll sit there and sell books. You get a little feeling of running a bookstore. Also I love singing at nursing homes. I’ve made so many friends at these homes. When I show up they usually give me a cup of coffee. We sing songs, we pass out maracas and little tambourines and things like that and we sing a lot of songs that are singalongs. I try to make everybody feel like they’re at home and I’m just one of them, sometimes I feel like a patient. But the secret is to have everybody feel like part of the group.