Peggy Pruitt-Laney-Fletcher, of Midland, Texas, takes a picture of her family name, Pruitt, in a brick Saturday during the Old Timers’ Day celebration at Baxter Memorial Park in Melrose. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer
Buddy Hepler said his family settled in Melrose in 1898, seven years before the village became incorporated.
He recalls helping his father build homes in the area and the First Baptist Church. In the 1941 he was a high school football star before going off to fight in World War II.
“I played halfback and roving guard,” Hepler said. “We were the mythical state champs.”
The lifelong Melrose resident said he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was part of the D-Day invasion.
Hepler was among the hundreds who attended Saturday’s annual Old-timers’ Day and the 100th anniversary of the farming community 25 miles west of Clovis.
The celebration included a parade, the dedication of a veterans park and even a turtle race.
But the day was mostly about former residents returning to their roots.
Leon Cooper of Albuquerque brought several bricks for a memorial pathway at the park, including one for William Hanna, creator of the Flintstones and the Jetsons.
“He (Hanna) was born in Melrose in 1910 about two blocks west of me,” Cooper said. “I wanted to honor him with a brick.”
Cooper said his mother was Cherokee and her family homesteaded in Melrose in 1906. His father came in a covered wagon in 1914.
“I was born in a dugout house,” he said.
Dwayne Grant of Oklahoma City, Okla., said came to Melrose this year because it was the town’s 100th anniversary.
A 1946 Melrose graduate, Grant said he was enjoying seeing his old classmates and the town.
“My father was the local barber,” Grant said. “So, everyone knew him.”
He said he drove by his father’s old barbershop location. “You can still see some of the old sign.”
As the older generation enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and the newly installed memorial pathway, the younger generation focused on other activities, such as the turtle race.
Seth Damion, 6, raced across the park with a cardboard box holding a turtle he was convinced was going to win.
His grandmother, Bonnie Wright of Clovis, found the turtle.
“It was running across the road on our drive in,” Wright said.
The Smith family of Melrose also planned to get into the turtle racing action. Sisters Jada and Jessica proudly displayed their two turtles, which were in a pet carrier.
“My Papa Butch found them,” Jada Smith said.
Their parents, Jay and Debbie Smith, said they bring the girls every year.
Debbie Smith said the turtle race is always lots of fun because all the kids come out winners.
Charles Polston, a 1936 Melrose graduate, came to the 100th birthday celebration to see his old classmates.
“Even 69 years later, five members of my graduating class are expected to be here today,” Polston said.
“Melrose is a very special place to us. We have deep roots.”