Our Wonderful Friend, Melvin "Mel" Alferness
On November 16, 2017 in Sacramento, CA, Melvin entered into eternal rest with his beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, after a short illness. Born in Princeton, MN, Melvin was the much loved and awaited son of Gerald and Myrtle Alferness; enjoying a rural small town childhood of fishing, hunting, swimming, riding his bicycle in the country, and Trinity Lutheran Church potlucks. Melvin had a wonderful booming laugh that made friends and total strangers smile, and a crazy sense of humor that took everyone for a wild ride. When challenged on a particular dubious tale, he would arch his eyebrows and calmly drawl “Well, maybe I exaggerated a little...”, prompting more laughter. Rain or shine, he could always be recognized in one of his many comfortable light sport jackets and English touring hats. “Follically-challenged”, he often mentioned that he wore hats to protect his “bald noggin”…also known as his “solar collector.” Prone to losing a cap every few months or so, his wife Paula quickly learned to keep a steady supply arriving off of Amazon. He’d try on a new one, say "Thanks, Honey Bunny", and whistle as he walked out the door...Never missing a beat.
Mel graduated from Princeton High School, received a B.S. in Liberal Arts (with a minor in Piano Tuning and Rebuilding) from University of Wisconsin at River Falls, River Falls, WI, and an M.S. in Counseling from CSU,Sacramento. In 2011, he retired from a rewarding 20-year career with the County of Sacramento as a Social Worker and Senior Mental Health Counselor; helping youths and adults to find ways to lead productive lives. He found great joy in helping kids learn to read, and giving them confidence that they could begin thinking about going to college. His offices had a never-ending supply of magnets, unusual rocks, petrified wood, and slag glass; a mechanical gear clock, little Zen sand garden, and above all else...a coveted meteorite. They actually got to hold a meteorite! The kids would fake needing to be called-in for a counseling appointment, in order to see what was new in Mel's office. After picking-up and examining everything, they would open-up and talk about life, and what was troubling them... and of course, that's what Mel hoped would happen. Having lost his loving father at age seven, he wanted to help make their world a safer place. He was always touched when former student would approach him in a store with a friend, exclaiming "Hi Mel! Remember me? This is Mel. He used to be my social worker...You know, the guy I told you about with all of the cool stuff in his office!" To know that he had helped a troubled youth succeed in learning how to read and do well in school. To give them awareness of what opportunities responsibility and good decisions could lead to. To help give them direction, in spite of all the barbed social curves already built into their young lives. Well, these daily successes gave him a great sense of purpose and humble pride. He was always a great kid at heart, himself, and Paula loved and encouraged all of these qualities about him.
NOTE: Meteorite back story. Mel was antsy to get going while Paula shopped in a local mineral/crystal shop in Virginia City, NV. Not quite done shopping, Paula found a basket of small meteorites for sale, and told him she would buy him one for his office. "The kids at work would probably get a kick out of holding one of these cosmic dudes. You'd be even more cool." His eyes lit-up like a dog on-point, and finding the perfect specimen kept him busy for another 40 minutes. Win-win.
To know Mel, was to know how much he looked forward to attending “The Tradition” at Lake Sterling in the Sierra Nevada, each Fall; hunting, playing guitars, 4-wheeling up to the top of Red Mountain, creating general mayhem, and giving thanks that he could once again spend time with his “Opening Weekend” brothers that he loved dearly. 30 years worth...You know you are. You were so very important to him. Whenever he began with “When Ray and I were 4-wheeling at Sterling…the Buckmuda Triangle...”, you knew he would smile and start laughing. He'd be impatient to get going to the top of Red Mountain, and then at the last second...jump-out of a Jeep to get his hat, water, or sunscreen...while everyone nodded to each other, smiled, and waited. Second only to his voracious appetite for a good meal, he leaves an unchallenged legacy marked by his wit, intelligence, compassion, and internationally-known humor of bad jokes and terrible puns. When Mel returned from these trips, Paula was always glad and greatly relieved to hear him roar up the street safely in his 4x4 pick-up truck, jump-out, and hear him yell “Hi, Honey Bunny. I need one of your hugs! I love you millions and millions.”...and be overwhelmed by the 3-day “aroma” of smoke, dirt, pine needles, sunscreen, and only heaven knows what else.. He would be tired and hungry, but oh so content and rejuvenated.
For years, Mel was active with the Sacramento Piano Technician Guild, tuning and repairing pianos in Sacramento and surrounding areas. Almost every afternoon drive with Paula would eventually include a pointed finger with “I tuned their piano!”; entertaining her with stories about glue-types, soundboard designs, and acoustical physics of houses, churches, stores, and museums…Or of the “helping” family dog that sniffed around and wanted petting, the cat that wanted to climb inside and take a nap, the parrot that sang and squawked along with the ivory key racket, or toddler that wanted to walk-off with Mel’s many tools. Or a spouse that would walk in the front door, and bewilderedly ask “Who are you, and when did we get a piano? ”. Or opening a traded-in piano back at the shop, to discover hidden money, old photos, and abandoned clothes. Uh, abandoned clothes? Sometimes, they were lacy. Later, he would raise his eyebrows and mysteriously say “If only pianos could talk...". Such garments were thumb-tacked to the break room " Lost and Found" board.
He leaves behind Paula (Van Alstine-Alferness), his loving, loyal, and encouraging wife of 21 years. They met in Sacramento Fremont Presbyterian Church’s parking lot one windy and rainy April morning, and spent the day with a group of friends at the Scottish Games, in Roseville. Paula was captivated by his great smile, intelligence, bizarre humor, and genuine kindness. By the end of the day, they had walked into each other’s arms, hugged and held on. “I was looking for you.” “I was looking for you, too.” And that was it. He loved Paula, she loved him, and they never stopped holding hands. He was a one-of-a kind guy. In March 1996, they were married at Carmichael Presbyterian Church, in Carmichael, CA. They would semi-joke that they felt like they got married in their hearts at that first hug. Self-described as the "Norwegian uncle from the North", his occasional "Uff-ta" always made Paula laugh out loud. It usually meant something had greatly surprised him, or shocked his mid-western sensibilities. As a native Californian, she couldn't wait to see what normal craziness caused the outburst.
Originally a well-known lead and bass guitarist in Minnesota, Mel was a humble and extremely talented professional guitarist that made every style look easy; often playing his guitar in Sacramento area church praise bands, while Paula sang or played the piano. She never tired of hearing him sing and play his guitar, and Mel always said that her singing “soothed his troubled beast”. While Mel was more rock, jazz, and country, Paula was more Broadway, classical, renaissance, and...Queen. When they first met, Mel was flabbergasted to hear Paula bang-out Bohemian Rhapsody on the piano, followed by a little Handel and Bach. They enjoyed and respected each other's talents. Paula greatly appreciated his encouragement for her music interests, and loved to play the piano in the evening to help him relax. While totally embracing contemporary praise music, he especially loved to hear and sing old-time hymns...Amazing Grace, It Is Well With My Soul, Holy, Holy, Holy, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, How Great Though Art, Be Thou My Vision, I'll Fly away, and many more. The "old" songs were a never-ending source of contentment and hope for his child-like faith in God. Especially with knowing the trials and struggles he had been through, Paula found comfort and strength in witnessing Mel's simple honest faith.
What Mel never thought he would be fond of, was the steady parade of demandingly loyal and affectionate kitties in his life; instantly claiming his heart and lap while watching TV, following him and getting in the way while he puttered in the yard, stalking him by the front door, meowing worriedly outside a closed shower door, or greatly shocking him by silently jumping inside his open car window to hitch a ride. When his health became more tenuous, his furry four-legged pals were an extremely great comfort to him; wanting his attention, and making him feel like he was the greatest and smartest person in the entire world. Especially in the last days, Sammy Cat would spend hours purring contentedly, with Mel reaching out to fondly pet him. They were close nap buddies. Both Sammy and Paula miss him tremendously. Every. Day.
Mel had a forever warm and special place in his heart for all of his friends and acquaintances at Sacramento area Celebrate Recovery and AA groups. Every one of you. To the end, you were loyally there for him when things got a bit overwhelming and he needed encouragement and acceptance. Extremely thankful, he often told Paula that he wanted to be one of the old guys that helped the younger ones, because he knew what it was like to feel that there was nowhere safe to turn to when life got tough, and you felt alone. A modest and compassionate man, he knew that sometimes you really, really needed a smile with a warm hug to keep on going. Please know that you were all an extremely important part of his community family, and he was always glad to be there with you and for you. Most of all, he would want you to rejoice that he is finally loosened from the shackles of this world, and wailing for hours on his guitars, again!
Melvin was preceded in death by his parents Gerald and Myrtle Alferness, his sister Violet Kemble (husband Charles, step-daughter and step-son Colleen and Brent), Grandpa and Grandma Camp, and his precious great-grand-niece Perris. He leaves behind his wife Paula (Van Alstine-Alferness) who is lost without him holding her hand and reaching for a hug; sister Sylvia Gossen (Jim), and many nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and nephews, and great-grand-nieces and nephews that he loved beyond measure. Paula never tired of hearing him laugh and recall experiences he shared with them as a child and adult, and how he always wished the best for them. From the first week that Mel and Paula met, Mel often spoke of how lucky he was that his brother-in-law Jim took him under his wing after Mel's father passed away when he was only seven; teaching him how to fish and hunt, and making sure he was able to spend time with his niece and nephews. Feeling alone and adrift without a dad to guide him, he was always grateful for the confidence and sense of camaraderie that Jim gave him while growing-up. To Carmen, Steve, and Jeff…You were such an important, large, loving, and memorable part of his life. Please know that several times a week he openly reflected on the many times you shared together, and that you were always in his thoughts and prayers. Every. Single. Day.
Fun to be around, Mel had the refreshing curiosity and open enthusiasm of a child. No words can begin to express how blessed we have been to know our Melvin, and the extraordinary deep grief we share with his sudden passing. While we take comfort in knowing he has been released from this world into the embrace of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we will all have a place in hearts that eagerly waits to be filled with Mel’s wonderful hugs and laughter, again. On Saturday, January 20, 2018, a Celebration of Life service for friends and family was held at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church (8701 Elk Grove-Florin Rd, Elk Grove, CA 95624), after which a light lunch and memories were shared. Everyone was invited to wear Mel's favorite color of Blue. At this uplifting service officiated by Pastor Eric Ishimaru, we sang, listened, laughed, and cried, as we quietly remembered this special man. By the end of the service, friends and strangers had visited, and left each other feeling as though they had known each other for years. No doubt, remembering Mel's daily presence of humor, love and kindness helped us feel a bit more at peace on that sunny, but bittersweeet day. He would be touched if you wanted to remember him by performing daily random acts of kindness, and giving donations to Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other charities of your choice.
You are invited and encouraged to leave comments and memories about our dear Melvin by clicking the Journal selection on the left of this page. He would want us to love and help each other during this difficult time. Be patient and kind. Encourage each other. Try to remember that the person next to you may be (and probably is) going through a personal struggle. Be thoughtful. Listen. Give hugs.
Yes, Melvin, although we weren't ready for you to leave, God had other plans. Until we meet again...We love and miss you more than words could ever, ever tell. You have no idea. Millions and millions. To the moon and back!