‘Killing trees in heaven’

A tenth of the population of Sweet Home turned out Thursday to say goodbye to Robbie Melcher.

They filled the Main Gym at Sweet Home High School and jammed the center of town with parked cars and a row of log trucks parked in front of the high school in memory of a favorite son who died March 18 of a massive heart attack at age 40.

The memorial service at the high school followed a more private Rosary the night before at St. Helen’s Catholic Church,

followed by burial at Gilliland Cemetery.

Funeral Director Mac Olsen of Sweet Home Funeral Chapel said he estimated that more than 1,000 people crowded into the bleachers and chairs set up on the floor of the gym.

The two-hour service included eulogies from family and close friends, a solo performance of “I Can Only Imagine” by Matt Stock, a friend of the family, followed by a potluck lunch in the high school cafeteria.

A slide show prepared by family friend Renee Weidner about Melcher’s life, including the state football championship he helped Sweet Home High School win in 1987, his graduation from high school in 1988, graduation from Oregon Institute of Technology in 1992 and his marriage to Maryann, whom he met in college.

Mark McCartin, senior pastor of Community Chapel, opened and closed the service.

Amid some jokes about not knowing what a hickory shirt was, he said he appreciated the informal dress in honor of “an unpretentious fellow who preferred an unconventional approach.”

He said that although Robbie Melcher was a “fun-loving guy” who “took God seriously and took others seriously.”

Nearly all the speakers noted how devoted Melcher was to his wife Maryann and children Kayla and Cameron, with whom he spent the day before he died on a trip to the coast.

Friends and family members, many of whom wore red sweatshirts with “Robbie” embroidered on a gold ribbon, remembered Melcher as a loving, caring, hard-working man who maintained a constant positive outlook, no matter what the circumstances.

Several made particular reference to his cake-decorating prowess, which was as much a part of his life as a lover of things mechanical and outdoor life.

Mindy Lee read a letter from her husband, Kelly Lee, a co-worker and “best friend” of Melcher’s, that recounted good times they’d had working together and having fun.

Lee told how he and Melcher, “the sheetrock kings,” had repaired a wall in their house, after which Nichol discovered his cell phone was missing. They found it when they dialed his number and the hallway wall started ringing.

“All I can do is think of you with that quirky little grin and chuckle,” Lee said, a statement that was echoed by others during the service.

“Killin’ trees is never going to be the same. You are the best friend I’ve ever had. I never told you that and I wanted to make sure you knew,” Lee concluded, adding that he hoped they’d one day be together “killin’ trees in heaven.”

Wendi Melcher, Robbie’s sister-in-law, urged the audience to consider donating to a scholarship fund set up in his name with the Sweet Home High School Alumni Association.

“That scholarship is going to be a great tribute to Robbie that his kids will have for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Two of Melcher’s roommates from his time as a student at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls spoke of their friendship with him, cultivated during their years in college.

Cary Addington of Albany told of how dorm residents would find duck feet standing next to the sink in the bathroom or behind the shower curtain after Melcher went hunting with his roommate Dustin Nichol of Sweet Home, in one case triggering “hysterical screams from Penelope, our faithful custodian.”

He said he could figure the length of his friendship with Melcher €“ exactly “19 years, four months, two weeks and a couple of days” He said he calculated that back to the date they and Nichol became housemates in a four-bedroom residence off campus that the landlord let them rent for cheap on condition that they fix it up after a previous remodeling project had gone awry.

“They seemed like nice guys but I had no idea what they were talking about half the time,” said Addington, adding that “I was from the city.” He said Melcher and Nichol were constantly dropping words such as “yarder, skidder and hickory shirt.”

He described how their friendship jelled as they worked on the house, including painting the trim “cotton-candy pink” after Melcher convinced them to try the color he’d chosen. “That was the defining point in our friendship,” Addington said.

He also told how Melcher introduced him to radio-controlled trucks and Addington said they spent many hours at a local track, racing each other.

Addington recounted how Robbie and Maryann Melcher had stood by his family a few years ago when Addington had open-heart surgery, and how he has hazy memories of waking up and seeing them standing by his bed.

He referred repeatedly to Melcher’s “positive” outlook and good nature.

“He carried life with him,” Addington said. “The way he took care of his family was amazing.”

Nichol, now a teacher at Sweet Home High School, spoke in an even hoarser voice than is normal for him as he told how Melcher once picked up two hitchhikers at Crater Lake and dropped them off in Klamath Falls, only to find out on the evening news that they’d robbed a bank.

He told of the honest relationship they had and how Melcher “always had no problem telling me to straighten up when I was faced with a compromising situation.

“Robbie’s positive attitude shaped his life and the lives of everyone around him. You were always in a better mood after a conversation with Rob,” he said. “He had a giant appetite for life and was extremely generous with his time and resources.”

Melcher’s father Mike and brother Scott, flanked by Scott’s and Robbie’s children, finished eulogies by describing their son and brother as someone who didn’t like attention but would always get a job done, albeit sometimes with some corollary damage when he was young.

Scott Melcher related how, when he was 13 and Robbie was 10, they began operating a skidder on one of their dad’s logging projects and argued because the chokers weren’t staying together. He said Robbie wasn’t setting them tightly enough and Robbie suggested that Scott needed to back the skidder up faster to keep them tight.

Frustrated, Scott said, he jumped up and down on the chokers. Later, when they were through working, Robbie asked, “Think you hurt those chokers, jumping up and down on them?”

Melcher said when their dad found out they’d been arguing, he told them it could never happen again. And, Melcher said, it didn’t.

“To this day I cannot recall a single fight,” he said.

He acknowledged that the family has received “a fair amount of publicity” from its involvement in the forestry business and projects in Sweet Home.

“In our business you have to have a good line of bull and then back it up,” he said. “(Robbie) was always there backing me up, making things happen.”

He thanked those in attendance for their support.

“I would like to tell Robbie that the outpouring of love and support that our family has received, that we see here today, he must have done his job to perfection because he was called home so soon,” Melcher said.

Mike Melcher described how his late son’s youthful exuberance with equipment when he was a youngster resulted in some difficult moments, such as the time he cut phone service to an entire neighborhood in town, but how Robbie “with his constant little grin and positive attitude,” happily pressed on through life.

When the Melchers started clearing overgrown forestland in the Sisters area a few year

s ago, an area in which residents had gotten logging bans imposed until they experienced some bad fires and realized that leaving the forest be completely wasn’t the answer.

Mike Melcher said he asked Robbie how the project was going.

“Dad, it’s going good,” he said Robbie responded. “They’re waving at me with all their fingers.”

Melcher said his son’s death was a “terrible tragedy.”

“Over the next few years, that occasional pat on the shoulder and that little tear in your eye will let me know how you feel,” he told the audience.

In his funeral message, McCartin said his reaction, when his wife told him Melcher had passed away early that Thursday morning, was “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

He said a natural question was “Where is God in all of this?”

Answering that question, he told the audience: “God is a just and holy God and all of us are sinners. And if we got what we deserved, it would not be just physical death, but eternal death.”

McCartin quoted a statement in the Bible that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, who lived a “sinless life” and “died a criminal’s death” to take that deserved punishment in the place of guilty sinners, and noted that the events of Holy Week were part of that process.

He described in detail the biblical account of the events of Christ’s crucifixion itself, saying “that’s why the most horrible day in history is called Good Friday, because that was the day God was good to us.”

“For me, for Robbie, we’re casting our lot with Christ,” McCartin concluded.