(March 8, 1921 – February 12, 2004)
Tribute to Dr. John Albert Melenchuk written and presented by sister, Eva (Melnechuk) Proskiw
Funeral Service, Beauvallon, Alberta
February 20, 2004
On behalf of the Melnechuk family, I would like to pay tribute and celebrate the life of our brother, John. We were a family of 8 girls and two boys, so you can be assured that we regarded the boys as being pretty special. John was the older brother and Bill is 6 years younger. Given our close proximity in the birth order of our family, John and I were very close as we were growing up and that relationship continued into our adult lives. John’s wife, Violet and I were good friends even before she married John. She was a conference secretary in Edmonton and I was the church schoolteacher in Edmonton. As young people, we had many social times together.
I remember John and I walking along the railroad track one Sabbath afternoon and he was telling me about a wonderful girl that he had eyes for at CUC. I remember saying, “Yes, John, but if she has been raised in Vancouver, how do you think she will adapt to a farm family from Beauvallon?”
“Well”, he said, “I’m not going to be a farmer, and I won’t be living in Beauvallon!”
How little we know what life has in store for us and the many curves there are along the Pathway of Life.
Violet proved to be a wonderful wife and she adopted the Melnechuk family as close as her own. John was a Doctor of Optometry for 46 years in St. Paul, Alberta and when he retired, he farmed his Dad’s land in Beauvallon—and he loved it. Anton and I had many fun times with John and Violet on the farm.
As I mentioned before, John and I did many things together as we were only two years apart and brother Bill was too young to be a playmate, so it was John and Eva who talked and walked to singing meetings and school and made plans for our lives.
Let me share a few stories: Because we grew up during the Great Depression, we were children of a poor family where money was scarce. Consequently we had to be ingenious as to how we could make some money:
We picked wild strawberries and sold them for 10 cents a quart to the Beauvallon Hotel.
John developed a trap line and trapped muskrats, rabbits, and weasels. He sold the furs to the Hudson Bay Company. These skins had to be mailed to Edmonton. Once he caught a skunk and tried to get the smell out by burying it in a shallow grave for a week or so. Finally he got it ready for mailing. He turned to me and said, “Eva, would you mail this parcel for me?” Of course, I was always ready to do things for John so I took it to the post office, not realizing what the contents were. The postmistress weighed the parcel and I heard her remark, “There is a smell of skunk around here. I wonder why?’ It was then I realized what kind of parcel John had asked to me mail!
When John was about 12 years of age, he discovered that if he took his older sisters’ perfume bottles and filled them with water, he could sell them to girls at school for 5-10 cents a bottle. After all, the perfume smelled nice and he could make some money. But when he insisted that the perfume bottles be returned, his scam was uncovered.
John always knew the value of money and he was generous with it. He helped several of our family members when they were in need. He was always interested in the welfare of his extended family. He wanted to know how we were doing physically, financially, and spiritually. Family members always felt welcomed in the home of John and Violet and we treasured that we could talk about any topics—home, school, politics, church, etc. This legacy has been passed on to his children: Janice, Karen, Laura, and Michael. They have learned the value of work, concern about others, and family togetherness. Thank God for a loving and caring brother.
Here’s another story that comes to mind: When Anton and I lived in Beauvallon and my mother and father lived on the hill in town, John and Violet would come to church every week from St. Paul. Sabbath dinner would be at my Mom and Dad’s place and very often some of our other sisters would come home to visit with their children. After Sabbath dinner was over, Violet would round up the children and say, “Okay kids, let’s all go for a Sabbath afternoon nature walk”. And she would look at John and say, “Do you want to come along?” He would reply, “Oh no! I don’t want to miss hearing what my sisters have to say!”
John was never the same after his wife Violet passed away in 1999. In December 2000, he had a bad accident that the doctors attributed to a stroke. And dementia set in. Two years ago, it was Anton’s and my privilege to have him move to Kelowna into a house just across the street from our home. We would see him almost every day. He would stand outside the garage door and when he would see Anton in our yard, he wave and call out: “Hello, Tovarish” or sometimes his greeting would be in French, “Comment ca va?” (which means “How are you’?). And so we spent much time together. But this was interesting—When I would visit him and start a conversation, I would often begin the conversation by saying, “You know…” He would point his finger at me and say, “Eva, if I would know, you wouldn’t have to tell me!”.
As his dementia increased, is was sad to watch him try hard to cover his memory loss. When someone tried to have a conversation with him, you could see just how hard he would try to maintain his dignity and say something appropriate. Very often he would come out with a remark that was funny and yet quite appropriate! Quite often in the privacy of our conversation he would say, “I’m just useless and this head of mine doesn’t work right”. So he knew that he was loosing his memory and that was very frustrating to him.
It is with heartfelt thanks to his live-in caregiver, Lita that he had two good years in Kelowna—although he never acknowledged Kelowna as his home. Lita took him to a smaller church in Kelowna every week and when they would ask if there were any visitors, his hand would always go up and he would say, “I’m from St. Paul, Alberta”. He enjoyed this church because Pastor Dubyna and Pastor Zaft (former ministers who served in Beauvallon) also worshipped there and they always acknowledged him and visited with him in his home. As a family, we wish to thank Lita for the excellent care she provided for him. She took him for a drive every day and he believed he was teaching her how to drive. She would read to him and I frequently saw his Bible and lesson quarterly on the table. She would stimulate his thinking as they watched a television program together. With the “Price is Right” TV program, she would say, “John, how much do you think that item is worth?” And then she would offer her best guess about the price and they would laugh when they learned who won. Thank you again, Lita. We will never forget your kindness and concern for John.
John loved to sing. Every Friday evening we would sing together and watch a music video. He even participated in a Kelowna choir last year for a special program. Anton and I, along with our son, Bryan and daughter, Elayne, recorded a tape of some gospel songs and John enjoyed listening to that tape. Once when we travelled together we sang along with the tape—all the way from Kelowna to Abbotsford and John knew every song and every word of each song from memory. It is the message of these spiritual songs that gives us the hope that we all cherish: we will meet again. I am going to ask my family, Anton, Bryan, and Elayne to join me as we sing this song that John loved. “What a Day That Will Be” when we all meet again.
Dr. John Melenchuk
Obituary published in the St. Paul Journal, February 2004
Dr. John Melenchuk was born on March 8, 1921 in Beauvallon, Alberta and passed to his rest on February 12, 2004.
His life was dedicated to service to his patients, his community, and to his family. Growing up in Beauvallon, Alberta his parents stressed the importance of education. He began a teaching career in the early 1940s, but returned to university to study optometry. In 1951, Dr. Melenchuk graduated from the Northern Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago. Responding to the needs of his community, he set up an optometric practice in a small building adjoining the William’s Furniture store on the main street of St. Paul. The population of the town in 1951 was only 300 and there was no running water!
Dr. Melenchuk soon had a thriving practice as people in the area learned about the quality of vision care he provided. In 1965, Dr. Melenchuk built the first mall in the town of St. Paul and relocated his practice to the new building. He mentored several new optometry graduates, including his son, Dr. Michael Melenchuk, who joined his father’s practice in 1987.
Dr. Melenchuk continued his lifelong commitment to education through community service. He was one of the founders of Glen Avon School and became the first elected Trustee in 1955. For the next 22 years, he served the community as Board chairman for Glen Avon School from 1956-1967, and also served on the Provisional Board and the first Board of the St. Paul Regional High School. In 1977 he received a Long Service Award to mark his retirement as a school Trustee. He organized the first Toastmaster’s Club for the town of St. Paul. He also served for many years on the Board of Trustees for Canadian Union College in Lacombe, Alberta.
He provided many years of leadership in the Beauvallon Seventh-Day Adventist Church. His retirement from optometry in 1997 allowed opportunities to donate optometric equipment and his services in the Ukraine. The first optometry clinic was established in Kiev, Ukraine. He also assisted with the restoration of an historic church in Myrnam. Retirement also provided an opportunity to return to his farming roots where his days and memories were measured by the passing seasons and the farm work connected with each phase. His father’s farm became a special place—“the closet thing to heaven” for him.
Dr. Melenchuk was predeceased by his wife, Violet (Luchak), his father, Mike Melnechuk, his mother, Catherine (Chernowsky) Melnechuk, his sisters, Mary (Slusarenko), Dora (Nahorney), Jessie (Tkachuk), and Pearl (Tarangle). He leaves to mourn his children: Dr. Janice (Bell), Karen (Randy Ferguson), Laura (Albo), Dr. Michael Melenchuk (Pamela Schurman) and 10 grandchildren. He is also survived by four sisters, Annie (Tarangle), Eva (Proskiw), Caroline (Kiehlbauch), Ruth (Eli), and one brother, Bill Melnechuk.
Funeral Service will be held Friday, February 20 at 1:00 P.M. at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Beauvallon with interment to follow in the Church Cemetery.