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Melvin Douglas Atwell

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 29th, 2014

5/30/1922 – 4/19/2014

Melvin “Mel” Atwell went home to the Lord on April 19, 2014. He was born to an immigrant mother who, at the age of 11 arrived at Ellis Island from Liverpool in 1894. At 91, Mel enjoyed a full life which began on May 30, 1922 in Pasadena. His parents took him home to the tent city near the current location of the Rose Bowl and Brookside Park. He often shared memories of the Atwell and Robinson brothers growing up playing baseball together. His pride in being raised in a color-blind home was apparent as he would describe his mother sitting in the bleachers with Jackie Robinson’s mother watching their sons playing ball. He hoped to follow his older brother into making a living as a ball player but the events at Pearl Harbor changed that.

On Jan. 7, 1942 Mel and two of his brothers enlisted in the Navy. After seeing his picture in the paper, Millie wrote to the boy who used to frequent her mother’s Pasadena ice cream store. This began a long-distance love affair by mail from Pasadena to the South Pacific, resulting in their marriage on Sept. 17, 1944. Mel’s artistic nature was evident early in life and following the war he went to work for Lockheed in Glendale lettering airplanes. In August 1952, he graduated from the Pasadena Fire Academy where he began his 23-year career. Another source of pride was restoration work he did on the 1909 Seagrave Chemical engine, owned by the Pasadena Fire Department. He hand laid all the gold leaf on the white engine which happened to be the first motorized fire engine on the West Coast. This vehicle can often be seen driving down Colorado Boulevard for the Rose Parade.

A talented water color artist, Mel was a member of Mid Valley Art League. He sold numerous paintings and has given more away. His art can be found all over the United States and as far away as Thailand and Norway. He loved having the name and address of all who owned his art and kept in contact by sending notecards he created.

Mel was also a member of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society, setting up a booth each year highlighting photos and memorabilia from his brother Richard Atwell’s baseball days. He kept newspaper clippings of team mates Richard Atwell and Joe DiMaggio on the San Francisco Seals. Mel laughed when describing how efficient the USPS was by showing a letter postmarked in Pasadena in the 1930’s addressed to “Dick Atwell House of David Baseball Team Anywhere USA” and it found his brother in Chicago. Mel has been credited with providing authors Kevin Nelson and PJ Dragseth with valuable information including photos and correspondence from the early days of baseball.

His second career during the off hours from the fire department was that of a Southern California sign painter. He enjoyed lifelong accounts, including that from Clearman’s Northwood’s Inn and all their off shoots. Most recently, at the age of 91 he hand lettered the menu for Clearman’s “The Boat” restaurant in San Gabriel at Clearman’s Village. They refused to accept his resignation two years ago.

Mel knew no stranger, having a genuine interest in people. He could strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere and within minutes know where they were raised, went to school and where they worked. He had a great sense of humor and loved to tell stories, cracking himself up in the process.

Mel was a man of honor, always early, staying until the job was done, the most generous, kind-hearted friend, father, husband, brother, son, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather. He held a true concern for others. He is survived by Millie Atwell his wife of 69 years, daughters Sheri Martin of Yakima, Washington, Judi Scofield of Duarte, Robyn Chapman of Silverado Canyon, sons Ron Atwell of Texas, and Brian Atwell of Atascadero, 18 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, with two on the way and countless friends.

For the complete article see the 04-30-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 04-30-2014 paper.

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