In 1963 Melba was already 50 years old and the State of Idaho was celebrating the Centennial of its becoming a Territory.
Not to be outdone, Melba planned a big party. Charlie Laughlin and his buddies dug a big hole in the Legion yard. It was to be the barbecue of all times. After a day or two of heating some giant rocks with red-hot coals, Charlie proceeded to remove some of the coals and put the huge chunks of beef in to roast. When the time arrived to eat, long lines formed to partake. The meat was wonderful – until they got an area of the pit that had not stayed hot enough – and some of the meat had spoiled.
According to Clyde Cornell, editor of the Melba Herald, “Tuesday things were almost back to normal around the American Legion hall and grounds at Melba with only a mound of earth marking the spot where a barbecue pit had been a day earlier. The lawn, which on Monday had been a picnic grounds for an estimated 900 people – men, women and children, was Tuesday afternoon spick and span with only a few photographs to show of the fifty year celebration of Melba and Idaho’s Centennial.”
The date of the paper was Wednesday September 6, 1963. Following a list of activities, which started with a parade in the morning and led by Police Chief Gordon Vogelson, and including a beard-growing contest (won by Bob Robinson), and a horse-harnessing contest won by Gene Lee, there were pony rides offered to all the kids and 30 to 50 kids were in line all afternoon waiting a turn.”
The report says, “The day’s activities were climaxed by a dance held at the IOOF hall.”
The next really big adventure in Melba was joining in the celebration of the Bicentennial of the United States of America. That was a year-long event bringing communities across the country just like Melba to commemorate the founding fathers’ spectacular creation of a free country.
Melba started their celebration in the fall of 1975 with raft races on the Snake River. The rafters had to have a combined age of 200 with no more than five on a raft. Hank Hughes created an open-pit barbecue in the park area of the Snake River Inn and there was music, horse races, a rescue race and a “boot” race (whatever that was) and all afternoon there were donkey rides for 25 cents each ride.
On November 11, the community was dedicated as a Bicentennial Community at the high school and Melba became a Bicentennial City. It was the fourth town named thus. The Bicentennial Choir presented their first program that day. The local American Legion Post assisted in the program.
J. M. Neil, director of the Idaho Bicentennial Commission, announced that Melba was the most active group in the State of Idaho and he said, “probably the most active small town in the whole Northwestern United States.”
The next activity was an all-church Easter Sunrise Service held on the high school grounds in April. Finally, the year was capped by the week-long Fourth of July activities. There were class reunions, picnics, antique displays and on the Fourth, a huge parade followed by a picnic held on the high school grounds. Atwell Parry was in charge of the picnic/food arrangements. He and his friends strung a row of tables in front of the red building with the expectation of 600 -700 people. They served 1200. Fortunately, Parry owned the store and he kept sending his kids to the store to get lettuce and other condiments.
Picnic tables were all over the lawn on the south side of the building. There was a tent-covered area where visitors greeted 90-some year-old Miss Vashti McKimmy, the first and second grade teacher of hundreds. Melba Todd Hays, the town’ namesake was there along with lots of other oldtimers. Other activities were held on the old football field (now the home of the Bob Hilton Field of Dreams baseball field).
By this time Atwell Parry had been creating a few fireworks displays. Since he had the grocery store and access to fireworks to sell, he checked the catalogs and decided to order a few ‘not-for-sale’ fireworks to entertain his kids. He had six boys and they all had friends, so it was just a fun thing. By the ’76 thing, the community had started to gather on the school grounds to witness the Parry fireworks. So, up until that time, the fireworks were becoming spectacular. By now the City was involved because the projectiles were getting pretty spendy. Through a series of meetings and discussions, the Olde Tyme Fourth of July, Inc. was formed in 1992. Today, the fireworks draw people from all over the Treasure Valley and Melba is invaded by at least 10,000 people each year. But that is another story.
The next celebration that put Melba on the map was a three-day event commemorating the Melba Diamond Jubilee – 75 years of Melba’s existence. Once again it was a series of catered meals, a gigantic parade, a ball at the high school gym with hundreds of people. There was a firefighters hose contest, walking tours of Melba and the famous Outhouse races. There was an All-Star softball game in the evening and a farm implement handling contest, culminating with the fireworks display on the grade school grounds at dusk. On Sunday morning there was an early morning Sunrise Service with a well-known old Melba alumni, Wilbert Eichenberger, as guest speaker. It was followed by a catered breakfast at the Legion Park, then arts and crafts displays and checkout time.
Last year, 2012, Melba celebrated 100 years of existence with year-long activities and dedications. The first event was the 63rd annual Melba Community Auction dedicated to the people who started it and kept it going.
The Fourth of July was spectacular and the grandson of the founder of the town, Gene Hays, was Grand Marshal of the parade. The whole day was climaxed by Ron Wright’s fireworks.
In August, the anniversary of the purchase of the plot of ground by C. C. Todd, gave us cause to have another grand celebration. There were permanent signs installed on buildings and placed where buildings used to be. The Grange hall was turned into a museum. On Friday, the 17th, the high school kids kicked off the day with mud volley ball, a “living history” drama and a teen dance. At the city park the Mayor, Doug Sturgis, kicked off the formal beginning with a Welcome and a Happy Birthday, Melba Cake and Ice Cream Social.
Saturday, the 18th, started out with the Mayor Slayer Race. It was a 5k race around the town. The Melba Cemetery board presented a program on history and use of the reader. There was an alumni baseball game on the Hilton Field of Dreams.
The climax of that day was The Centennial Celebration Banquet, an evening picnic that served 1200 people. Council member Chris Hinderliter, who had chaired the whole event all year long, was Master of Ceremonies. He presented about a dozen trophies to various people in the community called “The Spirit of Melba Award.”
A good time was had by all!
Melba will continue to celebrate – whatever the occasion because that’s the way they are.