Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
It was a time when summers were white, cotton curtains waving hello in open windows and children’s bicycle tires chewed paved roads that led to grassy bottomed swimming holes.
Maybe it was living the bulk of his life during years most think of as “easier times” that has allowed Turpin native and Woodward resident Melvin Nix to live such a long, healthy life.
There must be a reason. Even now, just three days before his 99th birthday, the nonagenarian took himself out to what would be his 78th attendance at the Woodward Elks Rodeo, which is in its 83rd year.
“Yeah, they made me a little bit of a celebrity at the rodeo last night,” Nix said Thursday afternoon.
If there is anyone who thinks Nix is a celebrity is has to be his daughter, Saundra Nix Lapsley.
This week, Lapsley contacted the Woodward News to announce her father’s coming 99th birthday party planned at the Woodward Senior Center for Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. The coming event carried Lapsley back to those old days and made her think about what makes her father so special to her.
“I especially remember his incredible patience with me when he was teaching me to drive a stick shift,” Lapsley said. “I was not good at it and we would go out in the field and practice until I learned it.”
She also included a story about how her father would wake her up early - around 5 a.m. - to take her to Fort Supply lake because she wanted to learn to water ski.
“Every morning, he’d go with me and it took forever for him to help me finally get up on those skis,” Lapsley said. “I guess he did it then because he didn’t want me to be embarrassed.”
Melvin was born Willard Melvin Nix on July 23rd, 1914 in the rural area around Turpin and was reared by his parents during the Great Depression.
The times called for hard work, something Nix thrived on. The then young high school graduate hustled up any work he could with area farmers and even driving a school bus, his daughter said.
In 1935 Nix began working for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government work relief program meant to put men back to work between 1933 and 1942. His assignment was to help create Boiling Spring State Park. Nix served the CCC until March of 1938.
“He was someone who worked very hard,” Lapsley said. “When he was working in those days, there weren’t a lot of machines to do what needed to be done.”
When World War II started, Nix was working for a company called Armour & Company, a Woodward produce company. The company had trucks, which picked up produce from area farmers and delivered it to Woodward, Lapsley said. Nix drove hundreds of miles a day picking up fresh food from area farmers and bringing it to people here who needed it.
“One late night, in the fall of 1942, he and his coworker Andy Anderson arrived back at the dock and Andy announced he was joining the Navy,” Lapsley said. “Melvin said ‘You’re not going to leave me here to do all this work are you?’.”
The next day the two of them drove to Oklahoma City and on October 26, 1942, Nix entered into the Army Air Corps, which later became the Air Force.
If you ask Nix about it, he will admit, there was a passion that lived inside him for the military. Indeed, after a 4-year stint on active duty serving in the area of aircraft repair and maintenance, he came back to Woodward to be with wife Grace but didn’t totally leave the military behind.
He enlisted into the reserves as soon as he came back.
“That took a big chunk out of my life,” Nix said. “I was 31 years in the Air Force and Air Force Reserves.”
He retired from the reserves in 1974 at the rank of 1st Sergeant.
After leaving active duty, Nix returned to Woodward in 1946 and his job of driving and working as a mechanic to take care of his family.
In 1948, the year following the tornado, Nix greeted his only child, Saundra, into his life.
Eight years ago, he bid farewell to Mollie his second wife.
“That was quite an adjustment,” he said.
Today, his daughter sees her father daily, even though he still lives in his home independently. The two are a similar in many ways.
They both have a passion and commitment to their church, The First Christian Church in Woodward. And if you talk to either of them separately, one senses in both a calming sort of satisfaction with what life has offered them.
If you ask Nix what it was that allowed him to live so long and be so healthy, he isn’t sure.
“Well, when I was 40-years-old my daughter asked me to quit smoking,” he said. “And later my wife asked me to quit drinking. So maybe those two things helped.”
It is true that he is a social butterfly, as his friends call him at times. He say’s now he lives for the interaction he gets from going to the Woodward Senior Center and seeing old friends there.