Life and Work
Although Melva was an able student, she was eager to get out of school. As a young girl she took on the job of camp cook for her father's sawmill and loved every minute of it. She moved to Calgary where she took a hairdressing course at her Aunt Lil's Jacobsen's School of Beauty Culture. She worked for two years at a Calgary beauty parlour but came to realize that city life was not for her.
She moved to Olds where she lived with her grandmother and took a job as dental assistant. Her cousin, Alice, recalls that during this period Melva took a keen interest in her friends' teeth and would inspect them given the least encouragement.
After about 1 1/2 years in Olds, Melva was offered an accounting position with Sundre Lumber and Contracting. This job involved a lot of fun and practical jokes abounded among the employees there. One day, after work, she went out and started her car but could not get it to move. Much to the amusement of the watching work crew, she discovered that her car had been set up on blocks, just high enough to keep the wheels off the ground. Deep snow conveniently piled around the car had hidden the blocks from view.
In April 1958 Melva and Dennis, her friend's brother, were married. Melva's home and family, with her daughter Shelley and son Dick, gave her the greatest satisfaction. In 1964 the family moved to Camrose. However, Sundre was still home and a couple of years later they returned to purchase Melva's parents' farm just east of Sundre. This would remain Melva's much loved home for the rest of her life.
Melva spent parts of the next few years doing accounting once again and then took on the position of Business Manager for the Sundre Hospital. In 1979 Dennis died of cancer. It was at this sad time of her life as Melva sought a diversion from the lonely hours that she discovered her talent as an artist. Her sister-in-law, Helen Lyle, suggested she enroll in an art course being offered at Sundre in the fall of 1980. Melva did so, and the rest is history. She became one of the area's best-known artists with highly sought-after paintings displayed at the Art Club's show.
Her paintings reflect the things that were a part of her life: wildflowers, birds, a pair of chaps hung from a tree branch at a mountain camp, fields of round bales or stooks resting throughout the lazy September days. Rarely did a painting go home from the show unsold.
Having served, at different times, as a member of the Sundre Hospital Board, and as the hospital's business manager, in 1977 Melva took her interest in health care a step further by enrolling in a two-year Health Care Management course. After its successful completion she went on to become administrator of the Sundre Hospital, a job she ably carried out until her retirement.
Letter of Appreciation by Jo Parsons, Norma Garriock and Val Sarsons
When we were given the opportunity to write a letter of appreciation for Melva, we thought long and hard of how to express the things she has meant to us. Finally, we decided that to share one of our annual Christmas tree parties with her would be the best way to convey all that was so wonderful about being Melva's friends.
"Our kind and loving Heavenly Father, we thank thee for all the blessings which thou has bestowed upon us."
None of us had dared to imagine that our mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, mentor, artist, Christian woman and friend, would be standing here today, giving generous, gracious and grateful acknowledgment to her Creator for the privilege to hostess this Christmas tree party.
t is Melva who established the tradition of the Christmas tree party. Early every December, several vehicles travel in convoy to a spot that Melva has chosen for her Christmas tree hunt. Everyone has a self-appointed task: Some gather wood and build the fire; others unload food and hot apple or chocolate drinks for the chilled hunters, some head out immediately, carrying saws or axes, pulling toboggans already laden with children, to find that perfect tree.
After everyone has their tree, and the last drop of hot chocolate has been enjoyed, the convoy heads home to Melva's where huge pots of wonderful aromatic stew wait beside freshly baked dinner rolls and crisp green salad. Somewhere in the background are the traditional birthday cakes covered with her wonderful sticky icing, lovingly prepared for her son and son-in-law who share early December birthdays.
The first snowballs fly. Thank You for the burst of laughter as they miss (or hit) their intended mark. Thank You for the happy faces of successful hunters as they return to the fire with their stories and their family's tree. Thank You for the crunch of snow under warm boots; for the scent of campfire smoke in your clear, clean air. Thank You for peanut butter cookies and hot apple cider. Thank You for rosy cheeks and tingling fingertips. Thank You for the comfort we feel gathered here with family and friends, protected in the sanctuary of your mountains. Thank You for the precious memories. Thank You for the gift of your Son, through whom all things are possible. Bless us as we prepare to worship Him this Christmas season.
"Praise God for the abundance which we share.
Praise God as we claim the promise of another year with our friend. A year to meet and share ideas, to discuss changes and commitments. Another year to share our journey of faith and frustrations as we continue to build our friendship relationship. Another year to have our children amaze us; another year to watch our grandchildren grow into their lives; another year to bask in the warmth of our friendship; a year to re-evaluate our goals and identify our purpose. Another year to reaffirm what we mean to each other; another year to establish the next portion of our life's path; another year to claim Melva as our friend. Thank You God. "
Memories of Melva Ratcliff by Marilyn Halvorson
Melva's Faith in God
Melva's faith in God was always an integral part of her life. She found a closeness to her Maker in the beauty of the wilderness and in all of God's creatures. She was also a loyal supporter of the United Church and held many positions in it, including Sunday school teacher, Explorers leader, choir member, and Board treasurer. When she knew the end of her life was near Melva, tenacious as ever, admitted that she did not want to go. She still had things to do, such as watch her grandchildren grow up. Yet, she had no fear of death and she thought that at Easter, with its message of hope, was a good time for her to go.
Throughout her life Melva always held strong opinions and was not afraid to share them. But she kept an open mind and was willing to listen to other people's points of view. This attitude, along with her willingness to be involved, make a difference, meet a need where she saw one, made her a highly respected member of the community.
As I left Melva's rustic ranch house where I had interviewed her daughter Shelley, cousin Alice, and dear friend Valerie Sarsons who lives there now I was struck by how much of Melva's spirit seemed to linger among the trappings of her everyday life. On the wall of the porch were a number of old pictures and plaques with humorous sayings on them. One caught my eye. "Don't squat with your spurs on." I could almost see the twinkle in Melva's eye as she shared that bit of wisdom with her guests..
Melva travelled to many parts of the world, Haiti, England, Sweden, Cuba, and Hawaii. Within this country she visited the Maritimes, Ottawa, and the Far North. She found all of these places interesting but the one she perhaps loved the best could only be reached by horseback. It was a secluded spot in the mountains called Pleasant Valley and it was as close to heaven as any place on earth. Perhaps she and Dennis are now spending a lot of time in a far-off Pleasant Valley.
Her Sense of Humour
Melva will always be remembered for her wonderful sense of humour which will live on long after her. She loved dressing up, taking part in skits, and playing jokes. Once she and a woman friend both dressed in men's clothes - on backwards - covered their heads, and painted men's faces on the back of them. They then attended a masquerade dance and had a rather backward evening before slipping out and disappearing into the night leaving the crowd forever mystified as to the identity of that "odd couple."
Melva Ratcliff's Benediction
The following benediction was read at Melva's funeral. It is a fitting conclusion to the story of her life.
A TRAIL BENEDICTION
May your ride be safe, your horses honest,
Packs balanced, hitches tight,
And your trail well-marked.
May you find strength for the high country
And courage for the dark, boggy valleys.
At day's end may you find a protected place to camp.
With abundant grass and game;
There may you also find clear water,
Dry wood for your campfire and a peaceful rest.
May each morning find you refreshed for a new ride
And may your final trail end where God awaits.
- Interviews with Shelley (Ratcliff) Hutchinson, Valerie Sarsons, and Alice Andras
- Written material submitted by Marion Thompson Spotlight on Sundre article by Lesley Munns Sundre RoundUp, June 29, 1983