Melvin Eugene Kirkpatrick, 88

Published 10:31 am Friday, April 5, 2013

Melvin Kirkpatrick

Melvin Kirkpatrick

Melvin Eugene “Gene”, “Chaunce” Kirkpatrick, 88, of Bloomington, Minn., passed away peacefully Tuesday, March 26, 2013.

Melvin Eugene Kirkpatrick was born on Jan. 29, 1925, the younger of two children of Elmer and Ruby Kirkpatrick in Austin, Minn. He was a vibrant and energetic soul that affected everybody he met. Mel approached the world as a puzzle in need of solving; his inquisitive mind found the answers through relentless study and research to master whatever the task, whether it was the family genealogy, banjo picking, sculpture, oil painting or pursuing a new investment. Which as anyone who knew him can attest to, never left him at a loss for words — often funny sounding, obscure and arcane words. Though unflinchingly devoted and hopelessly in love with his late wife Donna Lou “Pretzel” (Knight) he lived every day trying to be worthy of her love and was always worried that somehow he had failed her. Even after 61 years and their three children he seemed blind to the fact that she was every bit truly and deeply in love with him.

Together they were famous for co-hosting creative and entertaining parties, like a Poetry Party so epic it became front page news in the Bloomington Sun. The silly games organized by game-master Melvs at the annual Memorial Day picnic are the stuff of many a participating family’s legend. Christmas parties started as just a few families gathered on Christmas Eve had grown by the early ‘80s so that “Santa” Melvin and a designated elf were distributing over 100 gag gifts at a huge gathering. In addition to family and friends, it got so Mel was drafted to do these kinds of events and presentations for work presentations, and for class and Navy reunions. He did work as well for groups as diverse as the Minnesota Territorial Pioneers organization and The Newspaper Guild and with a battery of customized quizzes, stand-up bits, or doing so in character as Ben Franklin or Andy Rooney.

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He worked as a special librarian his entire life taking his degree at the University of Minnesota. First, he was working in ad agencies, Brown and Bigelow and then Campbell Mithun. Later he worked at IDS in the investment library, his fecund mind churned away at seemingly insoluble problems long before the advent of the desktop computer; which he never did use, banging away on a manual typewriter up to the last day of his life. Mel was drafted in World War II and served as a radioman aboard the USS Augusta; his service years were a source of pride and many, many late night stories. The Augusta was the flagship for the Normandy Invasion and later the invasion of Southern France. The battle cruiser was also designated as a Presidential Flagship and when Truman was returning from the Potsdam Conference young Melvin hand-delivered a message from Secretary of War Stimson that the atomic bomb had been dropped over Hiroshima.

A dynamo of ebullient energy, Melvin was always at something from high school on and in suburban life; his locus became the nascent Bloomington Civic Theater. Finishing as a board member emeritus, he was president at least four times in a career with the theater that started 55 years ago. On stage or back stage, upstage or down, the roar of the grease paint and the smell of the crowd was Donna Lou’s only rival for his passion. His stage presence and unerring timing could hold the audience as Nathan Detroit or as Geppetto. Never one to rest he worked in other media as well completing one feature length movie for HBO called Home Town Boy Makes Good, starring Anthony Edwards (making Mel 2 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon). As well as some local commercials and print ads. Much to his chagrin, a headshot of Mel’s became a stock photo and was used by the satirical weekly The Onion, mostly for his striking white hair. He wrapped his on-screen career with a nearly 20-year stint as co-host of the local cable access show The Time of Our Lives, geared for seniors. His career on stage extended into Alan Lotsberg’s New Fogey Follies a vaudevillian-styled review that suited Melvin’s musical tastes and comic style.

A lifetime so involved and devoted to his country and community does not go unrecognized and in 2005 KARE 11 so honored Melvin publically as an outstanding volunteer with their 11 Who Care Award. The Bloomington Civic Theater has named their annual outstanding volunteer award in his honor.

His parents and his wife precede him in death. His sister Blanche Einhaus; his children Tom (Melody), Susan Beth (Malcolm) Batt, John (Cindy); and seven grandchildren, a host of loving in-laws, nieces, and nephews survive him.

A celebration of this remarkable life will be held at the Bloomington Arts Center Theater, 1800 W. Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington, MN 55431 at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 6. Reception to follow.