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William Melnyk

Family man, devout Catholic, farmer, horse lover. Born on March 22, 1923, in Big Valley, Alta.; died on July 8, 2016, in Brooks, Alta., of natural causes, aged 93.

William Melnyk was born on his family's homestead farm in Big Valley, and lived on that same home quarter until he was 91. Bill's parents were immigrants from Ukraine and, along with his faith, farm, and family, he took tremendous pride in his Ukrainian heritage.

In 1948, Bill married Alberta Rose Marie Romane, a spirited prairie girl. They had many years on the farm with their three children, Joyce, Gloria and Harry, and would see their clan grow to eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Although cattle were Bill's livelihood, he loved horses. When she was around 12, granddaughter Jen acquired an injured colt. Bill spent the next year changing the dressing on the foal's leg at least once a day. His devotion paid off and the colt thrived. Bill secretly saddle broke the horse while Jen was at school. One day, he set her on her horse, which, to her surprise, obeyed every command.

In his later years, Bill preferred to drive a team. He found great joy in this, particularly after his wife Alberta died in 1995. His family bought him a covered wagon, which he and his grandchildren took on an annual wagon trek with a group of fellow enthusiasts. Bill was notorious for having the worst team, especially after one of his horses kicked the hat right off his head. He sold that team shortly after, replacing them with an unbroken pair. Bill neglected to tell his grandson that it was an unbroken team, and until several years later, Joe had no idea that he had essentially trained the team under Grandpa's direction while preparing for that year's trek.

At 73, the recently widowed Bill reconnected with an old school friend, Margaret MacMillan, after she saw the wagon trekkers in the Big Valley parade. Peggy had spent most of her adult life as a missionary nurse in Africa, and was attending the village's homecoming. While they were courting, he made sure they were always properly chaperoned, often having a grandchild or two stay over while Peggy visited.

Shortly after Bill and Peggy married, in 1996, his son Harry died in a car accident. Bill felt this loss deeply, but kept on with the farm, and became even closer with Harry's children, who lived on the home quarter with Bill.

As the years passed, Bill slowed down. His heart gave him trouble, and his eyesight deteriorated. Finally it became obvious he could no longer run cattle. Daughter Gloria picked "the best cows from my herd" (as he put it) for her own family farm, and he tried to take life easy. His faith was extremely important to him and Bill took great comfort from it, particularly during Peggy's long illness and after her death in 2013.

When he could no longer manage on his own, Bill went to live with Harry's youngest son, Matt (still on the home quarter), and then, at 91, moved to Gloria's farm. He had constant company, and occasionally checked on the cows with his son-in-law, Warren.

Bill was a true, old-fashioned gentleman. He loved good food, a good game of crib, music, and family gatherings. Countless times, I would look up and see him leaning against the wall, listening to his large, beloved extended family telling stories and singing, with a broad grin on his face.

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