Regine Archer

Regine Nozice, who was born in Poland in December 1924. Her mother met her father, American James Archer, while working for the U.S. Army, and shortly thereafter became parents to Regine and three years later to younger sister Jacqueline.  Given the era, the Nozices relocated to Belgium in the early 1930s where they operated their own business.  Mr. Nozice had a great passion for literature and probably would have been a poet, and it was Mrs. Nozice that had a real head for business.  It was the war that brought together the parents and it would be war again that would disrupt life in Belgium with the German invasion and destroying the only passages, bridges into Liege, Belgium during World War II. The family was forced to assume a false name and hide in a convent in Belgium following the Nazi invasion until the area was liberated in 1944.

Regine was educated in Belgium and went through Grammar school knowing that by the age of twelve she would have to decide on her next path in the system either college prep or trade school, and she embarked upon the College Prep High School track.  For the next six years she attended Lycée Leonie De Waha and followed the Humanities curriculum that focused heavily on the languages- ancient and modern, Greek culture, and the Sciences.  The school day was seven hours in length, and there were no extra-curricular activities.  Upon graduation students in the College Prep program had to take a pass entrance exam for college in Belgium and if students were coming into the U.S. the exam would equate to two years in college.  World War II interrupted Regine’s education and she and her family dealt with the German occupation for four years and the Battle of the Bulge. As the Germans were bombing the bridges in her town (known for its canals and bridges), they finally convinced her mother to leave the home for a safer environment.  The Nozice family headed west for freedom and France, along with thousands of others.  When they reached Dunkirk, all efforts appeared bleak because it was surrounded by the Germans.  Three long weeks of traveling like nomads brought them back to Liege, Belgium and to their delight the family home was still standing, receiving no structural damage.  Of course, all Regine’s mother could state was “I told you I didn’t want to leave, and you see nothing happened.”   Regine was accustomed to working and with the war closing many lucrative businesses she went onto the US Army base and landed a job in the Quarter Master Depot typist pool, and because of her fine command of the English language because of schooling, Regine oft times was called on to interpret. 

While working on the typist pool she met and eventually married James Milton Archer, Jr US service man from Saltville, VA.   James was a VPI graduate of the 1942 class, and he obtained the rank of Major.  Regine and James married in 1945 and within a year became parents in Belgium to first-born Nancy Ellen.  The war was coming to an end, and this led to the start of an interesting journey for Regine and baby Nancy from Brussels to Paris, to board a train in Northern Germany and a brief stay at the Army compound Brammer Hommer and then aboard the Liberty Ship for a solid month along with many other war brides.   The two arrived in January 1947 at a new land and met James and the immediate Archer family for the first time.

Once on the US soil Regine boarded a train in New York City with James and baby in tow and tucked away was a $500 bill given to her by her father who wanted to provide her a way back home in case she had a change of heart about being in the U.S.  The final stop was at the train station in Glade Springs VA where Mr. Archer awaited his new grandchild and daughter-in-law.  Once in the big black car they traveled miles on roads with no end until they reached Saltville, VA a company town run by Mathieson Alkali Works.  The town’s biggest production was coal ash and chemicals from the many caverns in the hillsides.  Mr. Archer Sr. was a controller for Mathieson and with the position came the largest company home, once owned by Jeb Stuart’s widow. 

Besides Mr. Archer Sr. and his wife there was another son, and the youngest child was a daughter.  Mathieson Alkali also owned a hotel in town for its visiting owners, teachers, and business lawyers.  Shortly after Regine’s arrival in Saltville the huge hotel lost its manager, and the position was offered to Regine’s mother-in-law.  The move to the hotel for the whole family meant private living quarters, a private dining room and meeting the most interesting people traveling through SW Virginia.  Mrs. Archer, Sr. coordinated pool parties, card parties, and dance parties, so it was becoming an era of celebrations with soldiers returning to the U.S. and creating new families. 

After approximately nine months residing in the hotel, James, Regine, Nancy, and newborn Bob headed to Johnson City, TN to settle as James took on the position of Manager for a soft drink bottling company.  This new job was an opportunity for James to work alongside his VPI classmate Charlie Gordon. Work was prosperous for thirteen years in TN during the same time the Archer clan was growing with the births of Jim, Paul, and Evelyn. Now there were five children. Over that time in TN many contacts were made with distributors in the region.  One George Sampson wasn’t content with his situation as a Miller beer distributor in Johnson City he had learned of a distributorship with ten employees that was looking for managers.  George talked his brother and James Archer into this new business venture and together the three came to Blue Ridge to distribute soft drink and beer product lines.  One and a half years after the three gentlemen were in business together, George’s brother died, and George asked James if he was interested in buying out their portion of the business.  Thus in 1959 the Archers moved to Salem to officially take the reins of Blue Ridge Beverage with a total of 10 employees and four trucks.  As the business took a foot hold in Beverage distribution, Mr. Archer was approached by a Northern Virginia distributor and encouraged to buy their Roanoke business that had a wine interest, if they purchased the new business it would come with an office and warehouse person who knew everything about wine, all they would have to do is get out to the public.  A new product was introduced at Blue Ridge and there was a new addition to the Archer household with the birth of the last child, Jackie. 

James Archer gave his all to make his new company a profitable entity and like all businesses it had its highs and lows.  The real turnaround came when the Miller Brewing Company was bought by Philip Morris and took the beverage from the number nine to the number two beer in the country.  This upward shift in consumption took place in 1972 and resulted in a tremendous growth in sales for Blue Ridge that James was able to experience before his untimely death in December 1972.

Each of the Archer children were college educated and encouraged to pursue their desired professions which led to degrees from Virginia Tech, W & L, in Business, Microbiology, two in engineering, and a music major.  Of course, like most family-owned businesses, the children worked in a variety of positions during the summers off from school and holidays.  As a result, when James Archer Sr. passed away Bob was already on the payroll, and he was second to his mother who took over the reins.  The biggest obstacle was convincing the Miller Brewery powers that this woman indeed understood the business and would continue to keep it a strong distributorship.  Thankfully, they listened to reason and offered her support.  As time marched on Regine Archer added other distribution locations in Waynesboro, Lynchburg, and South Boston, in addition to the headquarters in Salem, she has held the position of President for thirty years and for the last two years she has been the Chairman of the Board.  

Even though Regine did not plan on running a business, she took it on methodically and was able to keep it solvent with help from a great staff and all her children who have served as office manager, marketing manager and to this day the plants outside of Salem are being managed by her children. Her words of advice to young people going into business for themselves is “have a plan – for life, for investors—never lose sight of your goal, use your head and use your eyes!”

In 2005, Regine was inducted into the Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame; in 2006, she was named a Miller Legend by SABMiller for her four-decade commitment to Miller Brewing Company and to the beer industry in general; and in 2013, she was conferred an honorary Doctor of Commerce degree by Roanoke College. Archer’s graciousness has benefited the Roanoke and Salem communities in a number of ways. Among them, the Archer Family Endowment within the Salem Educational Foundation, established in memory of her late husband. Awards from this endowment are given to academically outstanding graduates of Salem High School who plan to attend a four-year college or university. Additionally, she has been a loyal supporter of Roanoke College and created the Regine Archer Endowed Scholarship for International Students and has served on the College’s Fine Arts Endowment Committee.

Regine Archer was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2005.

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