Friends and family say good-bye to 'Old Fred'
Friend, coach, colleague, mentor, coffee buddy. No matter how one knew Bow Island's Fred Mellen, they were guaranteed of being left with a lasting impression, a learning experience, and most likely, a few hearty laughs.
Robin Dann, a retired lawyer from Lethbridge, grew up in Bow Island and has many fond memories of Old Fred, who passed away on Oct. 26.
"We have known each other for over 60 years so it seems like he has always been there. He was my coach, mentor and friend - in that chronological order," said Dann, in recalling his decades-long relationship with Mellen. "I'm trying to focus on celebrating his life. He had a long, wonderful, and full life. He was deeply committed to his family," he added.
Dann first met Mellen when he was just seven years old, playing Little League baseball with Mellen as his coach. Dann remembers his coach as being instructive, but a lot of fun and Dann has carried some of the lessons he learned in those early years.
"We had a lot of fun, but he always had two rules. One was if you didn't come to practice, you don't get to play in the game and he didn't care how good of a player you were. The second rule was you had to hustle and look alive. When you were playing, you had better be active and committed," he said. "Being a young kid, I thought the rules were important to being a good player; but once I entered adulthood and entered the workforce, I realized he was teaching us life lessons on how to be a team player. So, those rules apply to the workplace as well. If you're going to do a job, be enthusiastic about it."
True to nature, Mellen would spearhead travel arrangements and fundraising for his team.
Mellen himself, played baseball for the Bow Island Combines in the Southern Irrigation League in the 1950s.
"We went all over the place for games. It was the late 1950s and early 1960s. The cars didn't have air conditioning or cruise control and some of the roads weren't paved, but we went to Saskatchewan, all over southern Alberta, and once, around 1960, we went to Malmstrom Air Force Base at Great Falls," said Dann, adding that they sold pull tickets to raise money for the trip.
"Of course, Fred was the one phoning around, arranging all of these things and he would get a lot of people to help him. If he got involved, you got full commitment," he said.
Dann left Bow Island after high school in 1966 and lost touch with his old coach and mentor for many years, but reconnected with him a number of years ago.
"I re-established contact when I retired about nine years ago. I had the time then and would go have lunch with him. I really enjoyed his company. Who didn't?" he said. "He was very enjoyable and I always felt like I owed him so much for all that I learned from him."
Mellen was born in Redcliff in 1932, spent much of his childhood in Tilley, where his parents operated a grocery store. In 1946, following World War II, the Mellen family moved to Bow Island where they also operated a grocery store. It was here that he pursued his love of sports.
In 1950, he started working for the PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration), doing survey work as a rodman. This job saw him move around, from Grantham to Vauxhall.
In 1954, Mellen was hired by Alberta Agriculture (Irrigation division) as an instrument man and draftsman. This position allowed him to move back to Bow Island. In 1975, promoted to Technologist 4 position, the only person at that level at Alberta Agriculture.
Mellen retired from there in 1988, but he had lots of work left to do.
"He had a very successful, productive career and was involved in the transformation from dryland farming to irrigation in the region," said Dann.
He married the love of his life, Dolly, during this period, in 1956 and the couple spent many years raising their family and enjoying time together. The couple loved to dance, especially to swing music.
In the early 1980s, he completed the Economic Development program at the University of Waterloo and he embarked on a completely different career path.
From 1988-2001, he worked part-time as economic development officer for the Town of Bow Island, encouraging businesses to set up shop in Bow Island, including Alberta Bean Growers and Spitz.
Bow Island's mayor Gordon Reynolds issued a written statement about Mellen's extensive involvement in the community.
"No one was ever a bigger promoter and booster of Bow Island, than Fred. He loved this community and worked hard to see it not only survive, but grow, and be successful. For many years Fred was the Town’s part-time Economic Development Officer. Part-time? That wasn’t the way Fred operated and I know that he put in far more hours than many people in fulltime positions. He was tireless in his efforts to raise the Town’s profile, boost local businesses and attract new ones," reads the statement. "Fred was a former Mayor and Councilor here in Bow Island as well as a volunteer firefighter. He and his late wife Dolly gave over 20 years of service to our Minor Sports program and he was a very active member of the Chamber of Commerce and other committees."
Mellen was recognized several times over the years for his dedication and commitment to the community. In 1980, he and Dolly were recognized for 20 years of service to Bow Island Minor Baseball and Hockey Association. In 1988, he was named Citizen of the Year by the Medicine Hat College and in 1992, was awarded a Canada 125 medal.
He would go on to contribute to historical endeavours in and around Bow Island. He worked on the committee that prepared the town's updated history book, "A History of Bow Island and Area: Sage Brush to Pivots".
Mellen spent countless hours researching old community newspapers for information for a column about historical events in Bow Island and surrounding area. His weekly column picked highlights and tidbits of newsworthy items from yesteryear and by the time Bow Island's Centennial rolled around in 2012, Mellen had enough columns accumulated to have the collection bound into book form and sold at the Centennial events. "Down Memory Lane" became a favourite among readers of the Forty Mile County Commentator where it was published and his columns ran right up to his passing.
"In later years, he became a historian. He understood that if you had knowledge of the past, it could guide you to the future," said Dann. "He wore many hats, but no matter which hat he was wearing, he was always Fred. He was consistent. It was always Fred you were getting. He was in Bow Island for more than 70 years and he inspired many people; kids like me and the citizens because he served them in so many ways for so many years,"
"Entertaining and informative, two words that could also describe Fred," the statement from Reynolds further reads. Fred Mellen believed in public service and believed in our community passionately. He inspired, encouraged and even cajoled many to do the same; myself included. Old Fred, Mr. Bow Island, definitely left the Town of Bow Island a better place than when he found it and he will be missed."
The funeral service for Fred Mellen was held at St. Andrew's United Church in Bow Island on Nov. 2.
FINAL PROJECT: In his final project, Bow Island's Fred Mellen assisted University of Washington professor, Patricia Failing with her research on artist Clyfford Still, who lived in Bow Island during his childhood. Pictured from left are: Mellen, Failing, Bob Sitton, and Mellen's long-time friend and former Bow Island resident, Robin Dann. Mellen passed away on Oct. 26.