This is my father, Merl.
On October 13th he went to be with my two mothers, Betty and Rosemary in Heaven.
My father was born October 8th, 1928, along with his twin brother, Earl.
Yes, Merl and Earl…even better Merl Melvin and Earl Elvin!
These things happened in 1928:
January: Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata
February: the Winter Olympics were held in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Charles Jenkins Laboratories of Washington DC became the first holder of a television license form the Federal Radio Commission.
March: Charles Lindbergh was presented with the Metal of Honor for his first transatlantic flight.
May: The first regular schedule of television programming begins in Schenectady, New York by the General Electric’s television station W2XB (the station was properly know as WGY)
The animated short, “Plane Crazy” was released by Disney Studios in Los Angeles, featuring the first appearances of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
July: The first machine-sliced and machine-wrapped loaf of bread is sold in Chillicothe, Missouri, using Otto Frederick Rohwedder’s technology.
September: Alexander Fleming, at St. Mary’s Hospital, London accidentally rediscovers the antibiotic Penicillin.
October: An iron lung respirator is used for the first time at Children’s Hospital, Boston.
November: Herbert Hoover was elected President over Democrat Alfred E. Smith, the country’s first Catholic Presidential candidate.
The Boston Garden opens & Mickey Mouse appears in “Steamboat Willie”
December: The U.S. Congress approves the construction of the Boulder Dam, later renamed the Hoover Dam.
Also in that year Coca-cola entered the Europe through the Amsterdam Summer Olympics & Elliot Ness began to lead the prohibition unit in Chicago.
Vice President Walter Mondale, Television producer David L. Wolper, Singer Fats Domino, actress and politician Shirley Temple, Jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, actress Rosemary Clooney, actor Bob Crane (Hogan from Hogan’s Heros), Director Stanley Kubrick, artist Andy Warhol, singer/actor Jimmy Dean, singer Eddie Fisher, Bewitched’s Dick York, blues singer Koko Taylor, Actor George Peppard, actor Dick van Patten & musician Bo Diddley we all born in 1928…all most all of these folks have passed as well.
My dad was a product of the Great Depression and earned everything he got from life.
Growing up on a farm in Oasis, Iowa, near the large Amish community called the Amana Colonies, he began at a very young age doing whatever he could to help make money for his family’s survival… not unlike many, many Americans of his generation.
Most kids from this generation were raised with this incredible work ethic that has somehow slipped from the American consciousness.
Besides helping my grandfather on the farm, he and his life-long partner in crime, twin brother Earl, they would collect coal from the railroad tracks to help heat the house and sell for spare change, make deliveries for a local merchant and collect and sell firewood among many other things to make ends meet in those very hard times.
My father was blessed with the natural ability to fix ANYTHING! This blessing became apparent very early in life as he used to not only fix farm equipment, as a pre-teenager, but also came up with ingenious ideas for ways of making things work from necessity.
He had 8 siblings Jewel, the oldest, Delbert, Earl, Bill, Don & Bob and my aunts Mable, Loretta & Dorothy. Dorothy and Jewel preceded him to be with the Lord.
My Uncle Jewel was an amazing story in himself. He was in the Battle of the Bulge and was left for dead on the battle field with tremendous injuries. After laying there for three days, the Red Cross, coming through picking up bodies, found him, barley alive, patched him back together and got him to a hospital where he not only survived, but made it back home to live a long life, just passing himself a couple years ago.
Dad, like all his brothers except Uncle Earl, who suffered with polio when young, was an Army veteran.
Dad joined the Army and with his mechanical abilities found himself working the motor pool in post WWII Berlin as part of the peace keeping force.
He told me stories of “working security” around Berlin and how scary it was with snipers around every corner, but at the same time, how much he enjoyed the people he met who were sympathetic to the Americans.
He had been invited to share simple meals with the locals, went to some of the wonderful Opera houses in Europe and visited Gothic castles.
I also think he spent time in the Korean theater, but didn’t talk about that very much.
During his time in the A rmy, he was stationed in Tennessee for a period of time, where he met his best friend Eddie, a wild child that to my reckoning always seemed to be somewhat of an opposite to dad, and the love of his life Betty Lou King, a young nursing student from Roosevelt Mountain, just outside of Rockwood, Tn.
After getting out of the service, he and Betty married and somehow ended up in the Quad Cities in Northwestern Illinois. Rock Island & Moline, Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa make up the official QC’s but Milan, East Moline & Silvis among other small towns are part of the area located where the Mississippi River runs East to West at the large hump in the Land of Lincoln.
He built the house I grew up in, himself, with no power tools! A 2 story, split level that he constantly felt the need to add onto in some way.
There was no power in our neighborhood of Coyne Center, just outside of Milan, until he was nearly ¾ of the way finished with the house.
Again with his natural mechanical abilities, my father became a typewriter repairman, working for several companies and the Rock Island Arsenal before opening up his own business.
Merl’s Business Machines was located in Milan, Illinois and was a one-man tour-de-force in the Quad Cities.
My dad fixed and sold business machines and supplies to International Harvester (Farmall) headquarters, John Deere Headquarters, J.I. Case, Alcoa aluminum, Hon furniture, the Cities of Milan and Rock Island, Government facilities and countless individual businesses and Schools.
He used to hire me and a buddy of mine in the summertime to go to the high schools, there could be as many as a dozen of them, and bring all the typewriters from the typing classrooms back to our house and line them all up in the garage to be cleaned.
We would take the chassis, rollers and all the plastic off the them and give them a bath in solvent, put them back together and he would fix any ailments they might have…most schools had anywhere from 60-100+ machines.
We would spend the entire summer hauling, cleaning and hauling typewriters back and forth to schools all over the area. It really helped to get me in shape for football season as most typewriting classrooms were at least on the second floor if not the third, and not very many schools had elevators back then.
At one point this simple one man operation did a million dollars in business in a single year…the thing that dad always claimed was the year that “did him in”…his heart problems began shortly after that.
He and mom (Betty) adopted me from a private adoption. My mom was a nurse for a private doctor and my natural mother was an unwed teenager who was a patient of the doctors.
When I was 4, my little brother, Matt came along and then, just a short couple years after that, we lost mom to brain cancer.
Dad did an amazing job rising a 2 and 5 year old for a couple of years, although in my memory it was longer, with a lot of help from my Uncle Earl & Aunt Inez and Aunt Loretta & Uncle Lee.
We spent a lot of time at my uncle’s house in Mattoon, Illinois and my Aunt Loretta and Uncle Lee’s farm in Iowa…love that farm! And still consider myself a farm kid. I will forever indepted to them for all they did for us.
Dad remarried to my mom, Rosemary a couple years later and I have 3 step siblings, Jim, Mary and Steve from here first marriage, which she was widowed from as well.
My father pretty much didn’t know anything but work. In fact, that is how he measured someone’s worth. He would always say “so-and-so is a good person…they work!”
The only real relaxation he allowed himself as fishing, or “feeshing” as he would say.
Personally, I don’t think he even cared if he caught anything; he just enjoyed getting away from the business for a little while.
My dad loved to laugh. He would laugh at humor and tragedy. He loved life and made it easy to love life along with him. I will miss his laugh most of all. When dad was together with Uncle Earl, it was just one big laugh fest. The two of them would whisper and giggle to each other like a couple of kids and never missed a chance to dish out some good natured teasing and just laugh and laugh and laugh.
My favorite childhood memory of my father was when I was maybe about 8 or 9 and Matt was probably 4ish, dad took us to the Fox Theater in Rock Island to see the War Wagon with John Wayne.
The Fox was maybe my first major architectural influence. A beautiful old time theater with a large balcony and the most amazing hand carved figures of Sac Fox Indians throughout. The Quad Cities is famous for the great Chief Blackhawk, the Souix indian who as a young child was captured by the Fox and was raised as their own and eventually became one of their most powerful Chiefs.
My dad spent a lot of time working, and although I spend a considerable amount of time with him at the shop or riding along on service calls, the moments I had with him as a child just having fun are precious and I can still remember vividly to this day us walking out of there, me possibly with either a cowboy hat or my constant companion at that age a “coon skin” Davy Crockett hat, with my little brother up on dad’s shoulders.
Dad was a 32nd degree Mason and Shriner. I don’t know much about the Shrine other than that they do a lot of stuff for a lot of people and do it for free. The work they support in child healthcare alone is nothing short of miraculous.
Although he belonged to many organizations, the Lions, the Rotary, Moose & Elk lodge, VFW, American Legion, Chamber of Commerce, he was most proud of being a Shriner and the work they did.
I cannot thank him enough for the life he gave me. He raised me as his own to be God fearing Christian, Patriotic, honest, loving and caring and I hope I have lived up to his expectations.
Although he had his prejudices, I never once saw him treat anyone of any color, race or religion with anything but the utmost respect and kindness.
My parents moved to Southwest Missouri in the mid ‘80’s to be close to my grandmother. After my grandfather died, my dad, although not the oldest, sort of took over the patriarchal duties of the family. Everyone seemed to look up to him for help and guidance.
After mom passed a dozen years ago, dad spent a lot of time taking care of the “old people” and under privileged children in his town. He never seemed to catch on that he was one of the “old people”, which kept him going for a long time.
He decided at 80 to add onto his already very large shed. Eventually building what was the equivalent of an extra-long two car garage onto the existing structure.
He refused to accept help in building it, despite any efforts we would do to help. He fell off the roof at least once, claiming his paratrooping training kicked in and he landed on his feet with a shoulder roll and wasn’t hurt at all.
He tried putting up the massive doors to the thing himself and they fell on him, knocking him out and missing up one of his shoulders for quite a while, but still persisted in not accepting any help to finish the job…it sits there now 99% completed.
This past year had been very had on him. His heart was failing and after he could no longer work I feel he pretty much lost his zeal for life as that is what he truly lived for.
Stubborn to the end, he wanted to stay in his home until the end, no matter what. He didn’t want to be a burden to either me or my brother, and we promised him over and over we would never put him in a home.
On October 13th after being taken to the hospital the day before he passed suddenly at around 1:30pm.
I talked with him early that morning, he was taking a bath and was in pretty good spirits, although I could tell he was very weak.
The sting is still strong from his loss, but I know he is in Heaven with the two women, I believe he never stopped loving and is finally at piece and can rest.