The couple has been living in the Hawaiian Islands since 1999, and is successfully blending the best of both worlds in providing meaningful, rewarding service and entertainment to others while enjoying life on a tropical paradise.
Over the past three decades, both became accomplished professionals in their own right. Lori, the daughter of the late Dr. Norman “Shorty” and Betty Jordan of Cleveland, is a 1981 graduate of Cleveland High School.
As a graduate of Lee University and a former employee of Chattanooga CARES Resource Center for HIV/AIDS, Lori demonstrated a passion for working with people with HIV/AIDS.
Ivo Monroe (Monte) Miller, a 1966 graduate of Bradley Central High School, started playing the piano at the age of 5. His parents were so impressed with his skills they arranged for him to study piano and vocals privately at Cadek Conservatory of Music in Chattanooga at the tender age of 8.
Proving himself a gifted musician, Ivo earned a bachelor’s of music from the University of Miami in 1972, double majoring in piano and vocals.
Influenced by such musical legends as Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Cole Porter, the accomplished pianist and vocalist went on to perform with the famous Glenn Miller Orchestra on a Royal Viking Sun Cruise ship.
Although both lived in Cleveland, Lori and Ivo said they did not know each other. Their first encounter came in 1994 at a karaoke performance in Chattanooga.
“Ivo was home from the cruise ship and I was working for Chattanooga CARES,” Lori said. The bubbly young working girl took center stage first and made a lasting impression on the professional singer.
“I heard her sing ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ and I’ve never been the same,” Ivo said. “Something happened to me.”
“Then he sang Bobby Darin’s ‘Beyond the Sea,’” Lori added. “I went up to tell him I really enjoyed his singing and his music. I said, ‘You don’t really sing karaoke, do you? He was so amazing! That’s when we found out we were both from Cleveland. We both took dance from Carolyn Clark at Carolyn Clark’s School of Dance.”
“I was there at the beginning and Lori was there at the end,” Ivo said. “Also, our parents went to Bradley High School and they knew each other!”
Their instant chemistry, similar family history and interest in the arts was enough to suggest the two could make sweet music in life together. In February 1995 they were married.
Although his musical talent had taken him from the sunny island of Lanai, Hawaii, and the dark pubs of London to the seaside towns of Morocco and five-star resorts all over the United States, Ivo said, “I gave up my sea legs when I met my wife. We’ve been married 17 years now. Then our son Jordan came along, and life is now complete.”
What added to their “complete” life was Lori’s desire to return to beautiful Hawaii after her stay there in 1986. Lori said she lived with her brother, who was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1987.
“He wanted to come home to Cleveland to die,” she said. “At that point we didn’t know how much time he had. It was very serious. We came home and our family took care of him. He died in December 1989. But I had a longing to go back to Hawaii.”
Her desire met the perfect opportunity and suddenly the door was wide open for the couple to move to her dream paradise. Lori started her new position as executive director for the AIDS Community Care Team in Honolulu on Dec. 1, 1999, which was World AIDS Day.
“I made a commitment to my brother to raise awareness of AIDS,” Lori said. “I had some sad stories about discrimination against him. I wanted to do my very best to educate people on HIV/AIDS. I’ve always been a very strong advocate for the underserved population. I was very focused on helping people die with dignity and feeling cared for while being as comfortable as possible.”
From 2002 to 2007, Lori worked with the Native Hawaiian Heath Systems and established a community health center on Kauai for the underprivileged and uninsured with a special focus on Native Hawaiians in need of primary medical, dental and behavioral health services.
For the past four years, Lori has served as the executive director for the only hospice on the “Garden Island” of Kauai.
Ivo is currently performing for patients at Wilcox Memorial Hospital on a luxurious Weber Concert Grand Piano, donated to the hospital and valued at approximately $50,000. According to the accomplished singer/pianist, the vibrant music is like therapy to the patients.
“They bring the long-term care patients down from the second floor to hear the music and it makes them feel much better,” he said. “It makes me feel better too! The sound of that piano is just incredible! The music goes up to the heavens.”
Having a musical repertoire that includes nearly 300 tunes, including jazz, classical, contemporary, Latin, Broadway, bossa nova and Hawaiian songs, Ivo said he finds deep satisfaction in playing for such appreciative patients.
The former Cleveland residents said their contributions musically and medically to seniors, the underprivileged and those with palliative care needs provide a rewarding life which they have never regretted.
According to Lori, returning to Cleveland after 20 years to attend her 30th class reunion was something she simply could not miss.
“It was loud and fun!” she said, laughing. “We danced up a rainstorm! They say you don’t ever want to miss your 30th class reunion. I’m so glad I didn’t. I missed our 20th reunion. Cleveland High School class of ’81 — there’s none better! It was great seeing everyone.”
Like her classmates, Lori and Ivo have also changed in many ways. The deaths of their parents, her brother and the near death of their 10-year-old son, Jordan, who was born prematurely — weighing a mere pound and 4 ounces — has given them insight and a more profound perspective on life with a purpose.
“What I’ve learned is how to become friends with death and how to help people celebrate life,” Lori said. “In hospice we say there are five conversations to have with someone nearing the end of life: (1) I’m sorry. Please, forgive me. (2) I forgive you. (3) Thank you. (4) I love you. (5) Goodbye. It’s very important to say goodbye.”
“Priorities are the number one thing,” Ivo said. “Since Jordan was born — it’s been about priorities. Think of yourself second and others first. It’s been a learning experience for me. The more you give the more you get back — love, music, joy and peace — you get it all back.”
“I am so grateful for the solid foundation that was given to me here in Cleveland and Bradley County,” Lori added. “A foundation of family values, education and being courageous. I went through a lot of emotions when my brother was sick and putting up with small-mindedness.
“But in retrospect, I was able to grow through that. I’ve learned everything is a gift and an opportunity. The other thing we’ve learned is to leave the judging to God.”
Both still have family in Cleveland. Lori’s brother Dennis Jordan owns Jordan’s BBQ. The eldest son, Dr. Ivo Aaron Miller, a Cleveland High School graduate, was recently introduced by the Center of Oral and Facial Surgery as the new oral maxillofacial surgeon in Chattanooga/Fort Oglethorpe. The middle son, Joshua Wade Miller, a Cleveland High School graduate, is a working actor in Los Angeles.
In 2009 and 2010, Ivo won in the professional category of the Kauai Mokihana Festival’s songwriting contest with his original song, “Tropical Lovin” and “Come to the Islands.” The versatile musician performs three times a week for three hours straight at Lemongrass Grill in Kauai.
Both Lori and Ivo agreed, come what may — victories, tragedies, success or failure — “Don’t forget your roots,” they said. “Don’t forget where you come from.”
To sample or purchase music by Ivo Miller, visit www.ivomonroemiller.com.