Writing his life story as a gift to his family

Michele DeLuca/staffMelvin Ricker, who now resides at Elderwood in Wheatfield, looks over the pages of his memoir in which he documents his nearly 102 years, most of it spent living in Niagara County.

Melvin Ricker is surprised that he is going to be 102 year old come this August.

“Nobody ever expects to be 102,” he said.

Ricker’s had a good long life and he recently finished a manuscript to leave for his family. While it’s not his whole story, he says, because he “ran out of steam,” he said he got most of it down.

Born in Wilson, the youngest of five children, and raised in Ransomville, he and his family moved to Niagara Falls when he was in his teens.

His writings share much of the details of his youth, like this:

During my boyhood days in Ransomville, I recall seeing a Stanley Steamer automobile in town one day. A representative of the company manufacturing the car was selling stock in the company. My dad, after seeing a demonstration of the Stanley Steamer car, thought it might be a worthwhile investment and purchased $200 worth of stock. That was quite a bit of money in those days. Unfortunately, the company folded and my dad lost all of his investment.

Sam Civiletto, a Niagara Falls attorney, edited the memoir for Ricker, a long-time friend who now lives in Elderwood Skilled Nursing Complex. Civiletto also spoke at Ricker’s 100th birthday bash last year and described Ricker as a quiet, kind and humble man. “He is the most plainly decent man you could ever hope to meet. I can describe him as a gentle man in the truest sense of the word,” Civiletto said.

Ricker’s memoir recounts the memories of a young boy swimming in an old swimming hole near his home, when someone stole his clothes and he had to high-tail it home after dark, grateful that no one was in the house to greet him. He remembered waiting by the roadside for the driver from the pea wagon to throw a handful of pea vines to him so his family could have fresh peas for dinner. He also recalled fondly the knickers his sister, Marie, bought him when she worked at the local dry goods store.

His family lived for a time in Youngstown before moving to Niagara Falls and Ricker wrote this about that period:

“During my lunch hour while attending school, I had a job at a small restaurant on Main Street in the Village of Youngstown. It was my job to serve the customers their hot dogs. My pay was not the usual paycheck, but a free lunch of hot dogs and a drink. My job was short lived; I ate much too many hot dogs.”

There were rides around Niagara Falls driving his dad’s Model A Ford, which was filled to the brim with teenagers. Or the time after a bad snow storm when the roads were unplowed and he walked miles through snow up to his waist to visit a girl.

In his writing, Ricker recalls meeting his wife, Norma, settling down in DeVeaux and his early days climbing the ladders of industry, banking and business. He spent some time working at Moore Business Forms, but his career was cut short by a stint in the Navy as the war was ending in 1945. He served on the Aircraft Carrier Roosevelt and spent some time in Rio and then was honorably discharged and happily returned to his family.

He and Norma had four sons, Richard, Robert, James and Paul, and a long happy life, as he worked at a variety of jobs including real estate and insurance. He later got a job at the U.S. Post Office in Niagara Falls and worked as a clerk and carrier for about 25 years until he retired. He also found time to join the Festival Chorus, a local singing group that left him with “so many fond memories of dressing up in a tuxedo and singing at the old Riviera Theater and the University at Buffalo.”

Sadly, Norma died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 1992. To fill the void left by her death, Melvin started volunteering at the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center for 25 years, well into his 90s, and became one of the hospital’s oldest volunteers. He also volunteered for the American Cancer Society providing transportation to people receiving treatment for cancer.

All that service kept his mind on his blessings. “I met so many wonderful and caring people while volunteering and my interaction with them was most helpful to me in getting through a most challenging period in my life,” he wrote.

Melvin’s oldest son, Richard Ricker, 79, a retired Methodist minister from Fredonia, calls his dad’s manuscript “amazing.”

“I think it’s great that at 101, he was able to do this manuscript, to have a memory so clear,” Richard said. “He writes about when he moved to Ransomville, and one of his neighbors, Dr. Smith, who was retiring from his medical practice, was a soldier in the Civil War. To think back that clearly, what a gift that is.”

While the manuscript was never meant to do anything beyond document his life story, Melvin’s friend and editor, Sam Civiletto, believes Ricker’s effort is inspirational. “I believe stories such as the one written by Mr. Ricker need to be told and preserved for younger generations.”

“I just thought someone needed to put it down in writing,” Melvin said of his story, “so that maybe 100 years from now someone would read them and say, ‘oh, that’s my great-great-grandfather.’”

When asked what he credits his longevity to, Melvin said it was his faith.

“I don’t have any pearls of wisdom,” he added. “It all boils down to my love for the Lord. I praise him a lot for his goodness and kindness and for watching over me.”