Melvin Kenneth Mantzey

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Melvin Kenneth Mantzey peacefully left this earth on Sept. 4, 2018. His heart was full and he communicated that to all of us.

Mel was born in Dawn, Missouri, to Charles and Marie (Robinson) Mantzey. He experienced more in his life than any storybook could tell. He started first grade in Chillicothe, Missouri and then the family moved to Utica, Montana. During his first year, Mel rode a horse to school midwinter and, as the story goes, the temperature was a famous 20 below zero. Mel’s eyes froze shut, but the horse knew the way. When he arrived at school, the teacher had to get him off his horse and thaw him out in front of the woodstove. That may have been the last time Mel followed another living creature’s direction.

Soon, the family moved to Clyde Park, Montana, where Mel started first grade again. School was a struggle for Mel, but the playground was a place where Mel, then known as “Butch Snarr,” made friends easily. After school, he worked hard along the side of his stepfather, Arch. They “never went hungry,” as they had a huge garden during the post-Depression years. He speaks of living with a friend of Arch’s in a log cabin that had no chinking. All winter, his job was to find rags and whatever to fill in the holes. The family lived for a time in the old Clyde Park Hotel before finding a place of their own with 5 acres.

Mel met his best friend for life, Gene Carroll, when the Carroll family moved to the area. Gene knew him so well that he always said, “If a fight was announced, all Mantzey would say was, ‘Where?!!!!’”

About the time he was 12, he went to work for the Shelhamer family. He worked hard for Asa Shelhamer on his ranch, and Asa became a father figure to Mel. Asa was the most influential person in young Melvin’s life and taught him the value of making your money work for you. Asa and Grace Shelhamer gave him structure and a bedroom of his own. He remembers the breakfasts of oatmeal with fresh cream, pancakes and eggs that Grace had on the table each morning. Mel’s children grew up calling Grace and Asa, Grandma Grace and Grandpa Asa.

In 1945, Mel signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps. He was in the 1st Bn., 5th Marines, 1st Division. His letters home to his mother described the landscape around his boot camp in California as desert “with sagebrush.” His service to our country was during a time of little-known defense. His brigade was called into North China and Mel was involved in the defense of the Ammo Supply Point at Hsin Ho, south of Tientsin, where they fended off Chinese Communist soldiers, sustaining fatalities and soldiers wounded. Mel never got over the terrors of the night rotations of four hours on and eight hours off.

He was honorably discharged in December of 1947 as a Corporal, Rifle Marksman. Mel returned to Clyde Park and worked for the Shelhamer family. This work included working with the quarter horses and thoroughbreds Asa trained and sold to the U.S. Cavalry.

Mel married Joy Marlene Young in June of 1950 and they went on to work on the Armstrong ranch near Yellowstone Park. Eventually, they found the A&W business and moved to the state of Washington.

The A&W years were good ones and the root beer paid off. Mel built the first A&W in the state of Washington. He would build one and then leave Marlene to run them while he built another one. The A&W’s were opened seasonally. In the off season, Mel worked for Reynolds Aluminum. Their A&W’s were also built in the San Jose area of California, where their son, Kenneth, was born.

In 1963, Mel and Marlene got out of the A&W business and moved back to Montana with two of their children, Amy and Ken. Their dream was to be able to raise their family on a ranch, and they purchased the Lee Place in Clyde Park. Gil was born at this time.

Mel realized very quickly that the ranching business was not as cash liquid as the A&W business had been. After running the ranch full time for about a year, he found the building on 10th Avenue South in Great Falls, Montana, and renovated the building to be an A&W.

While in Great Falls, Mel opened three A&W’s, an Orange Julius, and A&W with his lifelong friend and business partner Doug Magers in Helena, Montana. At this time, he also opened a Western Wear store in Great Falls and Pocatello, Idaho. During this time, he and Doug went in together and bought the O’Haire Manor with two other partners. In the late 1970s, Mel and Marlene divorced, and Mel moved full time to Great Falls, where he met Janice Johnson.

Janice, Doris Carroll and Mel were in a horrific car accident, near Ringling, Montana in December of 1979. He was on dialysis and life support for six weeks in ICU and given a 10 percent chance to live. To his doctors’ surprise, he was discharged from the old Deaconess Hospital in Great Falls on April 4, 1980, with a back brace and Tylenol 3, which he promptly threw in the garbage.

Throughout the 1980s, Mel operated Cars-R-Us Used Car Sales in Billings. He always said he did it to prove that car salesmen could be honest.

In 1994, Mel decided to buy out the other business interests in the O’Haire Manor, now known as O’Haire Motor Inn, and take a stab at running the place. Mermaids were born in 1996. As the story goes, Mel warned Sandra, laughed, and said, “You will regret this one.” Legends have been made and fame has been won with this decision. Sandra and Mel worked side by side through thick and thin. “Mr. M” was her name for Mel, until “Dad” fit better.

Mel was preceded in death by his brother, Marvin Mantzey; foster son, Mike “Red” Martin; and three infant children. Mel is survived by his loving partner, Janice Johnson. With his former wife, he had three surviving children, Amy (Dan Walsh) Mantzey-Walsh, Cambridge, New York, Kenneth (Jana) Mantzey, Livingston, and Gil (Arlene) Mantzey, Glendale, Arizona. Janice’s children, Donna Johnson, Great Falls, Montana, Bill (Becky) Johnson, Spokane, Washington, and Sandra (Wayne) Thares, Great Falls, Montana. Dwayne (Sheila) Carroll is as good as blood and our family considers him our guardian angel. Also, close to our family is Douglas (Betty) Magers. Mel is also survived by his grandchildren Audra Abbate-Korb, Tyler Abbate (Amy), Michael Mantzey, Jordan Mantzey (Ken); Marissa Mantzey and Morgan Mantzey (Gil); Billy Johnson (Bill); Alex Thares, and Nick Thares (Sandra), Katlyn Carroll and Caleb Carroll (Dwayne). He has two birthday twins, Nicholas Thares and Jen Magers Daily, as well as four great-grandchildren.

Mel was a U.S. Marine, cowboy, businessman and allround father influence to many. The family wishes to thank the staff at the Benefis Grandview for their amazing care in Mel’s last years on this earth.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Toys for Tots, c/o Marylou Brewster, 1120 Ave. C NW, Great Falls, MT 59404. The Toys for Tots organization was near and dear to Mel’s heart as a Marine, father, grandfather and human being.

Services will be held at Hillcrest Lawn Memorial Chapel, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 at 2 p.m.

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