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Photo submitted
Fred Lee, owner of Lee Publications, Inc., tells an anecdote about his first meeting with Mel Brown.

Photo submitted
Mel Brown poses with Canajoharie resident Gail Coppernoll, a long-time friend of the family who lives in one of the homes built by Mel on Garlock St.

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Nephew Walt Brown, of St. Johnsville, closes the party with a rousing rendition of "God Bless the USA".

Photo submitted
Mel Brown poses with his children, (from left) Carol, Larry, Kathy and Alan.


100 Years Young: Mel Brown celebrates a milestone

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - Updated: 8:14 PM

Special to the C-S-E

January 6 saw former Canajoharie resident Melvin Raymond “Mel” Brown reach a major milestone in his life -- he turned 100 years old.

Mel was born in Little Falls, New York, one of twelve siblings. Except for one brother, the rest of his family has remained in the St. Johnsville, Herkimer, and Little Falls area. He is the last surviving member of his family, with his youngest sister (Eleanor Pawluk, of Little Falls) having passed away in late 2013. Mel never graduated from school, having to go to work to help support the family. He joined the United States Army as the country was drawn into World War II.

In 1946, Mel married Donna Anthony, of Canajoharie. They lived in St. Johnsville for the first few years of their marriage. 

In 1949, he and brother Stanley (“Bill”) Brown started Brown Brothers Lumber Company (and a cider mill) in St. Johnsville. Mel also ran the Pyramid Skating Rink there. When these two brothers opened a second lumber company in Canajoharie, they split the businesses, and Mel and his family moved to Canajoharie.

The Browns raised their four children, Alan, Kathy, Larry and Carol, in Canajoharie, where they all attended and graduated from Canajoharie High School. Alan’s three daughters, Tiffany, Michelle and Allyn Joy were also raised and attended school there, as were Larry’s three children, Sybil, Jason and Erica. 

Alan and his wife Marcia (Shults) Brown still reside there, and are part of the five generations of this family, with Alan’s daughter Tiffany, her daughter Giovante and her son, Wyatt, all of Johnstown.

Mel was in the construction industry, building all of the houses (except one) on Garlock Street in Canajoharie. He then built and operated the Iroquois Lanes bowling alley in 1960, adding a restaurant and bar, then a television and appliance store, then a laundromat, then a carwash, and, when two of his children needed summer jobs, a tasty-freeze stand.  

At one time, there was also an Off-Track Betting office in the building. 

He “retired” from these businesses in the late 1970’s, but he has never really retired.

Mel and Donna began spending winters in Port St. Lucie, Florida, in 1984-85, where they purchased their home in 1989, becoming permanent residents there.

Since he was a young man, Mel has been a member of the Masons and the Shriners, and he has loved being a member of the Shriners Clown Units (first the Ziyara Unit out of Utica, New York, and now the Amara Unit out of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida). 

As “Chubby”, he has marched in the parades held at the annual Shriners Conventions in cities all over the United States and Canada. In fact, at the “young” age of 99 years and 11 months, Chubby marched the entire route of the St. Lucie Christmas Parade in December, handing out candy and balloon animals to  children.

He has also been involved with their philanthropic endeavor, the Shriners Hospitals for Children. He has raised large sums of money for them, and has sponsored several children for operations that have changed their lives, including some from the Canajoharie area.

So, it came as no surprise that the St. Lucie County Shrine Club hosted Mel’s 100th birthday party on January 4 at their clubhouse in Fort Pierce, Florida, with over 200 people in attendance. 

Mel’s four children came from New York, Tennessee, and Boca Raton and Wauchula, Florida. His eight grandchildren attended from New York, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, Colorado, and Fort Pierce, Florida, and five of his great-grandchildren came from New York, South Carolina, and Fort Pierce. 

In addition, several Snowbird nieces and nephews were in attendance, and a large group of former employees and friends came down from New York to celebrate with him.

Mel was presented with several awards, including the Amara Shrine Potentate, proclaiming January 6 as “Mel Brown Day”. A letter was read from Congressman Patrick E. Murphy, and an award was provided from the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, and a Certificate of Appreciation from the Shriners International. 

In addition, the Imperial Potentate of Shriners International wrote a personal letter acknowledging his many contributions to their hospitals, stating “we will be forever grateful for your service and brotherhood”. In lieu of gifts, Mel requested donations to the Shrine Hospitals, and turned over all the money that was sent to him. 

Fred Lee, long-time owner of Lee Publications, Inc., told several anecdotes about Mel, including how they first met.

Among the many stories told about Mel that day, there is one that truly shows what a small world it is. In 1942, Mel was traveling by train from Fort Sill, Oklahoma to San Francisco, where he was to be shipped out for the war. He had just won some money playing cards, and wanted to treat his buddies to a drink. He gave the conductor $30 (a large sum for 1942), who came back with a case of Southern Comfort. Mel found it too sweet for his taste, so he got cups and treated everyone on the train to a drink. There were two young girls traveling to see their brother off (Betty was only 16 at the time), and even though underage, they partook of the Southern Comfort.

Fast forward to the year 2012 -- Mel is tending bar at one of the Shrine Club functions, and was telling this story to one of the men there. The lady sitting at the table says “I was one of those young girls on that train”. Betty Baumgardt now lives in Fort Pierce, and her drink of choice is still Southern Comfort. As a momentum, she gave Mel a special-made card with the Southern Comfort logo.

Nephew Walt Brown, of St. Johnsville, was the DJ for the party. In addition to playing music, Walt sings, and provided a rendition of “I Did It My Way” tailored to Mel’s life, that brought a tear to the birthday boy’s eye. 

He ended with the attendees cheering to “God Bless the USA”.

One of the other traits that Mel is famous for is his dancing. And he got out on the dance floor and boogied with all the women, young and old, during his birthday bash. 

Daughter Kathy had prepared a photo display covering Mel’s lifetime, from 1922 to 2010. One of the photo boards showed him dancing through the years, including at the weddings of his daughters and grand-daughters.

Photo submitted Mel Brown and wife, Donna, are surrounded by friends from New York who attended his birthday party, including Alan and Linda Scott, Alan's sister, Gail Coppernoll, Larry Laux, and many others.


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