Ruth Melby (Tip’s Wife) – Memories from Karen and Bill


From Karen Melby Lavelle

All mankind has in common a mother and a father .I had a mother and a father. They had all the requisite warts, wonders and splendors. One of those splendors was my Mother’s fierce determination and courage. I had graduated from Montana State University with an associate degree in nursing. All I had left to receive my Bachelor of Science degree was my clinical field experience in public health. My Mother who was dying of cancer was adamant that I needed to finish school. Poor me, I by then had 5 kids. My Mother I think knew she was dying and had it in her heart to give me a grand gift, a college degree in nursing. So I went up the Bitterroot Valley for 6 weeks and my brave and determined Mother took care of my 5 babies during the week. I would come home on the weekends. I don’t think I ever realized the effort or elegance or sacrifice she made until later in my life. An amazing gift. She died shortly thereafter.

From Bill Melby

Ruth Melby.  Born Ruth Faye Kelley, to Bert and Ethel Kelley Jan 27 1912. First of seven kids.  Place of birth is Pettibone North Dakota. Desprately poor during the Depression. Mother excelled at school and won an academic scholarship to James Town College. Her mother,  disciplined  matriarch, said how can we send  her to college. Bert the  avoider of work said, no that girl is going to college and somehow was able to come up with the money to get her started. She did the rest herself.

It was at Jamestown that she met Tip Melby. She was three years older, but came back to track meet and fell for this good looking Miler. That part is history They first taught in South Western Wyoming where Karen and Bill both came into their lives. When the second world war started they both applied and both were accepted to teach at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp At Cody Wy. They both talked about that, more than most other mutual history  Ruth loved the Japanese and was still in touch with many of her students until she died in 1972.

A side note here – Karen, and I were both baby sat in Cody when they were teaching at the camp. I got most of this from Karen who was three years older than me. only one. If lady in Cody couldn’t watch us we were brought to camp where a Japanese Lady would watch us. Karen tells me that lady was wonderful. Many years later when a crewman on the air craft carrier Ranger I visited Japan many times. I had the greatest affinity for the Japanese. That must have come from Heart Mountain.

Karen , Janice. ,my wife Carol and I  recently visited the Heart Mountain Interpretive center located by the camp while we were  there we purchased a memorial brick for the side walk recognizing our parents. All five Melby’s paid an equal share. From Heart Mountain I am fuzzy on details. I believe that Dad went to Chicago to work on a doctorate in English and that mother and we kids stayed with Ole and Bess.

Anyhow Dad was drafted and given an exemption to run the Willet Ranch. That was when the four Melbys landed at that ranch. Mother was a dutiful l ranch wife although she didn’t much care for it. Cooking for haying crews , watching out for little kids in Rattle Snake infested country, washing with gas powered Ringer washer, and cooking on a coal stove.. Water was carried from outside. They stayed there until 1947, and made good money through the war.

We moved to Missoula that summer. Two more kids came along with us Pat and Janice.  Jean was born in Missoula in 48 I believe, Several years after we moved to Missoula Ruth begin to substitute teach. Soon she was teaching sixth grade. Then Dad quit working as a carpenter , and the two of them went back to UofM and got masters degrees,in  education.

My mother Ruth loved to teach and learn and she had insisted on moving somewhere, that there was a school where the whole family could be educated. It was a very good choice as the University of  Montana was a reasonably priced and very good school. Mother wanted all of her children  to have the advantage of a college education. That worked well for four out of five. One ran off and joined the Navy and although not degreed has experiences that no one else has, and no regrets.

Mother was a respected member of the education community in Missoula and was runner up teacher of the year in 1971 and in 1956 or 1957 . Jeannie was taking Spanish in grade school. Mother helped her, developed an interest in Spanish and back to the University she went. She studied faithfully and did so well that by 1964 she was teaching Spanish on TV. She was a member of the Foreign Language Institute, And received a fellowship to study in South America. That was 1963.

My tour in the Navy was over in August that year and she was heading for home about the same time. She came to Alameda and waited for me, and we drove home together. I had a hot rod 57 Ford that was very fast, and we went back to Montana faster than she liked. Not much complaining as she was not a control freak.

She had a radical  mastectomy  in 1952 and lived another 20 years until the cancer came back. Her brush with death  Made her a person who lived every minute of every day,

Always in the present, she never wasted a day.


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