Melvin P. Johnson, 96, of Vida, passed away Aug. 21, 2017, at Billings Clinic Hospital. He was born April 21, 1921, in Vida, the third child of M. Pete and Minnie Johnson.
Melvin attended Rose Valley Elementary School and had a heart and love for farming and ranching that actually began in eighth grade. Melvin noted that, in 1932, land sold for $1.50 an acre. When he was 13 years of age, his father was diagnosed with diabetes and given a life expectancy of two years. When Melvin learned that, he traveled with his dad on most of his business trips. Two years later, in 1936, when Melvin was 15, his father was found frozen while he was tending sheep in 40 below weather. Melvin then took over most of the work. His mother did a wonderful job raising the family of five children, but wasn’t as familiar with ranching. The family had 3,000 sheep, 30 cows and many horses on the open range.
Melvin stayed at home to tend the family estate. In 1937, they purchased 300 acres of wheat land from what is now known as the Glen Engen farm. During the winter of 1937-1938, he rose before sunup to water and feed the team, harnessed them and traveled 5½ miles each way, with a hay rack on a sled, often walking alongside the team to keep warm in the bitter cold. All in a day’s work for this young 17-year-old rancher!
With careful management, they did a good job of lowering the debt and, in 1940, sold the sheep. One year, the grasshoppers were so bad Melvin made $2200 spreading grasshopper poison on crops and the prairies during the summer.
Melvin attended college for three months in Bozeman, studying agriculture and engineering. He inherited a half-section (320 acres) from his Grandpa and Grandma Johnson. He stated, “That was my start.”
Ever the adventurer, Melvin started flying in 1940, after earning commercial, flight instructor and radio-telephone licenses. He was a pilot in the Civil Air Patrol Search and Rescue Squadron, Miles City Wing, for more than two years and was discharged as a Captain.
In 1944, he entered the Air Force and served two years in the Air Force Air Transport Command Ferrying Division. He attended the B32 factory school in San Diego, and the Airplane Engineering School in St. Joseph, Missouri. He started a flying school in Circle, and operated the school before and after World War II. After an honorable discharge from service on July 4, 1946, he returned to Vida to farm.
On Oct. 1, 1946, Melvin married Kathryn “Kay” Kersey of Jamestown, North Carolina, in the parsonage of Mitchell’s Grove Methodist Church in High Point, North Carolina.
After Kay and Melvin were married, they spent the winters in Greensboro, North Carolina, where Melvin attended King’s Business College for two years and was in real estate for a few winters. They decided to farm full time, which was a wonderful way of life that he loved and the farms were good to him. They divided their winter months between the Greensboro-High Point area and Daytona Beach, Florida. Melvin and Kay farmed in the Vida and Circle area of Montana from 1946 to 1976, when they retired from active farming. In 1981, they moved from their farm south of Vida to their home in Vida. There, Melvin took pride in growing a very large garden each year. In 2014, they moved to the Aspen View Retirement Community in Billings.
Melvin was enthusiastic in everything he undertook and loved people. Nothing pleased him more than helping a friend, neighbor or employee. Serving his community, Melvin was a mason in Wolf Point Loyalty Lodge #121 for more than 70 years, and for more than 60 years in the Scottish Rite in Greensboro. He was a member of the American Legion since 1946, belonged to the Al Bedoo Shrine, and was a charter member of the McCone County Farm Bureau, chairman of the McCone Republican Central Committee for several years, member of the Circle Chamber of Commerce, and was a charter member of the Circle’s McCone 100 Club. For two years, Melvin and Kay were the Grand Marshalls of Town & Country Days in Circle. He was always interested in promoting anything beneficial to McCone County and was instrumental in getting the new Highway 13 built from Circle to Wolf Point. In recent years, they bequeathed a farm to benefit the Yellowstone Boys & Girls Ranch, funded the Melvin and Kay Johnson Fire Hall in Circle, and created the Johnson scholarship fund to assist students from McCone County.
Melvin was a member of Mitchell’s Grove United Methodist Church of High Point, North Carolina, and attended Evangelical Church of Circle when in Montana. In later years, he attended the Vida Community Church in Vida.
Melvin enjoyed politics and the card game of bridge, becoming a Gold Life Master in the American Contract Bridge League.
A special niece, Jean Hansen Nedrud, Bozeman, worked many summers with Uncle Mel and Aunt Kay on the farm as she grew up, helping with harvest or whatever was needed. Melvin’s friendships with other employees, Mervin Darnall, formerly of Savage, now Texas, and Tracy Stone of Glasgow, were also cherished as they worked on the farms many summers. Harold Cox from Julian, North Carolina, was an employee and named his son after Melvin. Myron Gackle farmed for Melvin and Kay for many years. In the last years, Flynn Stormer, a young neighbor boy, was exceptional help in assisting Melvin with his extensive garden and anything that Mel needed around the farms. Through the years, there were other employees and each was valued.
Melvin and Kay had a unique gift of gathering family and/or friends together. They hosted many breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and cruises and trips for nieces and nephews and special friends. It was a great joy to share time together, making memories to last a lifetime. On each cruise, niece Joy Hansen White, Ronan, would sing a fitting tribute to Kay and Mel on the ship’s talent night by singing the song, “Thank You.” Niece Jan Hansen Wattles of Billings, their godchild, had the same birthday as Uncle Mel.
Melvin is survived by his wife, Kathryn “Kay” of Vida; and many nieces and nephews in Montana, California, New York and North Carolina, and he loved them very much.
Melvin was preceded in death by his parents; brother Jack, who died in infancy; his sister, Lena Johnson Hansen; brothers John, Henry and Albert.
Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27, at the Evangelical Church in Circle. He will be laid to rest at the Floral Garden Mausoleum in High Point, North Carolina.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the McCone 100 Club, PO Box 465, Circle, MT 59215.
Melvin enjoyed and always joined in the singing of this short blessing before many meals with family and friends…
Oh the Lord is good to me
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need
The sun and the rain and the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me.
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
A fitting tribute to a man of great heart, great character and great kindness…Melvin Johnson