Don Melvin – A Local Celebrity?

A total stranger once approached Don Melvin out of the blue just to say ‘hi’. He had seen Don on TV – to him, talking to Don was akin to yakking it up with a celebrity! Don is a grudging ‘celebrity’, but it comes with the territory…more about that later.

Don was born in Pierson on the first day of his life, as it turns out. After taking Grade 1 at Eunola School, he attended Pierson School for the next 10 years. Since Grade 12 was not offered in Pierson back then, Don finished his high schooling in Melita. Pierson must have missed Don – shortly after, Grade 12 was available in Pierson!

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Don remembers going to school one day in a cutter – a covered, glorified sled with a wood-burning heater. The cutter tipped over and lay on the door side in the snow. The trapped kids escaped through the front window and had to crawl under the horses. They helped get the cutter ‘back on its feet’ – no special investigation by the RCMP or any safety boards…just onward and upward to school!

Don grew up on the farm, but wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a farmer. He did study agriculture in Brandon for a year but then tried something completely different – selling cars in Virden one winter. That winter was very dismal for Don…and weather had nothing to do with it! He learned the hard way that he was a better farmer than a car salesman!

Back to the farm he went! As Don’s father inched towards retirement, Don and his brother Innes took a more active role in running the farm. When Don’s father died, his mother took in a boarder. A young teacher from Elm Creek, MB. Susan Friesen moved in with her in the fall of 1969 to teach at Pierson School. It didn’t take long for this newcomer to catch Don’s eye – the following March, Susan Friesen became Susan Melvin! It was an interesting time for Don – not only was he a new husband, he had to get acquainted with a whole new culture. Susan was Mennonite, so he had to get used to a new style of cooking (which was very easy!) and he had to get used to Mennonite customs (which at times was very hard…and embarrassing!). Don remembers attending a Mennonite Church with Susan – as he sat with her, he became aware that he was the only man sitting on the ladies’ side of the Church! Oops!

Susan’s teaching career was short-lived. The following year, she ‘retired’ to become a full-time farmer’s wife and a full-time mom. Don and Susan had three children…which led to nine grandchildren. There are no great-grandkids – Don is far too young for that!

Don has been a good community man. He has served several local Boards (Co-op, School, Community Hall, Pierson Rink, United Church). And he has given music – we’ll get to that shortly!

Don and Susan retired from farming in 2003 and moved into Pierson. They now had more time to travel, read, follow the grandchildren around, play cards and Scrabble. How they loved Scrabble – they often played three games a day! Retirement also freed up more time for music. More about that in a moment.

2017 was a very low time for Don. In June, Susan suspected a possible gall bladder attack and went to have it checked out. The tests gave a completely unexpected, life-shattering diagnosis – liver cancer. For four months, several trips to various doctors were taken, hoping to provide Susan and Don more time together, but sadly, in October – just four months later – the cancer gained the upper hand. For the first time in 47 years, Don found himself alone. Susan’s passing left a ‘huge hole’. Although impossible to fill, Don is thankful for his family and his ‘coffee friends’. They have helped fill some of that hole.

And he is thankful for music! Don loves singing and making music! He sang in a regional men’s choir and sang bass in the After Six Quartet. He still sings at funerals and special events like the local Christmas Cantatas. He plays the saxophone and chords on the mandolin and piano. He was introduced to JAM sessions several years ago by Norm Cheyne, who needed a piano player. Since then, music has taken him to Gainsborough, Melita, Hartney, Deloraine, Boissevain and Pierson, playing at Senior Homes, senior suppers and things like that. Up to one hundred people come to the JAM sessions to dance, moving and swaying to the music that Don and others bring! This is how Don’s ‘celebrity’ status arose – those sessions are recorded and played on some local television stations and are enjoyed by seniors and non-seniors alike. Thankfully, Don’s love for music outweighs his hate for being recorded, so the music goes on!

Well, that’s Don Melvin for you. Don might be a local ‘celebrity’ – but he’s an even better man in our community! If you happen to see him, don’t be a stranger. Stop and say ‘hi’!

© Melita New Era