Ratcliff, Melva

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.

Category: Olds, Camrose, Sundre