Melvin (“Punch”) Graber was born to Jacob E. Graber and Caroline (Graber) Nov. 17, 1921, on the family farm in Turner County, where he spent his youth. He passed away on Dec. 27, 2018 at Oakview Terrace Nursing Home, having reached his 97th birthday on Nov. 17 and marking his 70th wedding anniversary on Oct. 24 of this past year.
Melvin was baptized Oct. 17, 1937, as a member of the Salem-Zion Mennonite Church. In 1937, he and his family moved to Freeman, where he attended Freeman Academy and completed one year at Freeman Jr. College. He worked various jobs in grocery stores and on farms to help support his mother and sisters at home. In 1945, he enlisted in the Navy as a non-combatant, and he served in the medical field until his discharge in May of 1946.
Melvin returned to Freeman and went to work for Freeman Co-op Oil Co. as a truck driver. He married Marilyn Martinson of Jasper, Minn., on Oct. 24, 1948. He became manager of the Co-op Oil Co. in 1957 and continued in that position until 1965, when he left to become manager of Freeman Fertilizer Co. until his retirement in 1986. After retirement, Melvin worked part-time jobs for Coast to Coast delivering propane and for Freeman Fertilizer. Melvin knew the Freeman community and rural areas well from his years of business, and he enjoyed driving the countryside and visiting with the farmers and others he encountered in these pursuits. He was a member of Bethany Mennonite Church, the American Legion, and served on the Freeman City Council.
Melvin and Marilyn were better known in the community as “Punch” and “Morty.” They raised four children — Tamara, Gregg, Frank and Lisa — in Freeman and saw them all through college. The great tragedy of their life, and the family’s, was the sudden death of their beloved youngest daughter Lisa, then Lisa Letcher, in 1986.
Anyone who knew Punch knew he had a passion for fishing. It was a lifelong hobby that he introduced to all his children, taking them on trips in the family fishing boat. He had many “fishing buddies” in the area, and there were calls at any time of day to discuss where the fish were biting and plan the next trip. After the kids had left home, Punch and Morty moved farther down Cherry St., just a short walk across the street from the Prairie Arboretum, where Punch spent many hours walking and fishing the pond. He loved to help the children who would come to fish and enjoyed working with the Fishing Derby held there.
In retirement, Punch and Morty enjoyed several long trips, west to Colorado and California to visit family, and south to visit friends in Arizona and Texas.
Punch and Morty moved to the Salem Mennonite Home in 2016. Punch moved to the Oakview Terrace Nursing Home in July of 2018 after a pneumonia infection.
He is survived by his wife, Marilyn; daughter Tammi (John Goede) of Spencer, Iowa; sons Gregg (Peggy) of Parker, Colo.; Frank of Oklahoma City, Okla.; grandchildren Kyle (Jessica) Letcher of Freeman; Brittany Goede of Santa Fe, N.M.; Case Goede, of Spencer; Katie Graber, Matt Graber and Jaxon Graber, all of Parker, Colo.; one great-grandchild, Andrew Letcher of Freeman; sister Lucille Kleinsasser of Omaha, Neb.; sisters-in-law Alvera Martinson of Jasper, Minn. and Marie Martinson of Dell Rapids, S.D.; and many nieces and nephews, cousins and friends.
Preceding him in death were his parents, Jacob E. and Caroline Graber; daughter Lisa Letcher; grandson Ross Goede; brothers: Arthur and wife Katherine, Harry and wife Tillie, Eddie, Clarence and wife Lucille, Ted and wife Mildred; sisters: Esther and husband Jake Eisenbeis, Mildred and husband John Wollman, and Lorraine Hein; and brothers-in-law: Paul Kleinsasser, Valire Martinson and DeWane Martinson.
A memorial service was held Jan. 5 at the Bethany Mennonite Church.