The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

In tribute: Virginia Delores Blackburn 'never set idle'


July 14, 2019

MELROSE — Last month the Melrose community said goodbye to one of its longtime residents, a “Great Generation” exemplar, a “good neighbor and happy person” and the oldest member of its Baptist church — both in age and in years of membership.

Virginia Delores Blackburn, 95, was born in Melrose in 1924 and buried last month at the family plot in Melrose Cemetery. She lived many years at the home she made on a cattle ranch in Hassell, outside House, New Mexico, where she met her husband Eldon Blackburn while teaching school in the 1940s. In recent years, prior to entering assisted living in Lubbock, she returned to live in her family home in Melrose but had maintained ties to the community all the while.

Donna Lay said one of her earliest and most enduring memories of Blackburn is from a bygone Memorial Day in the late 1950s.

“I can remember her sitting outside of Tindle’s grocery store on Main Street in Melrose. I don’t know if she was selling or just handing out little paper poppies,” Lay told The News. “I just thought that was the neatest thing. She thought that was very important that we remembered the veterans like that.”

Melrose’s Main Street was a little busier then, said Lay, with many coming in from area farms and ranches on weekends.

“When I was a little girl we would go to town on Saturday afternoon, and we would take our cream to town and there were places to sell your cream,” Lay said. “There was a lumber yard and a mercantile store and two or three service stations and a movie theater. ... The only store we have now is Allsup’s. It has kind of dwindled down, and (Blackburn) was there for all of that.”

There was still plenty in Melrose to keep Blackburn busy, and Lay said her old friend “never set idle.

“She was always doing something,” Lay added. Some of Blackburn’s favorite pastimes were quilting, scrapbooking and playing cards, along with travelling with children and grandkids to rodeos and sporting events.

For Durward Wofford, pastor at Melrose’s First Baptist Church for 18 years and Blackburn’s neighbor, his “biggest” memories are of playing cards with Delores and Eldon, who doted on the Woffords’ young daughter with “typical grandparent stuff” like second helpings of a Dr Pepper float.

Wofford said Delores and Eldon, who died in 2014, were “typical of what I would call that ‘Great Generation,’ coming from the Depression, World War II, and they made due.

“They were happy,” continued Wofford. “They had a ‘let us be, we’ll do our part,’ attitude. There was nothing she couldn’t do -- gardening, big quilting, canning, all these kinds of dying arts.”

Both Delores and Eldon were “as regular as members could be” with the Baptist church, and on her passing Wofford noted that Delores Blackburn was the church’s oldest member in two categories.

At 95 years old, she was the eldest member of the congregation of about 125, but she also had the longest-running membership since joining June 4, 1943. The church itself dates back to 1906, and Blackburn’s parents Fred Lee Ashley and Ethel Oletha Beall were also members.

With her passing, Blackburn’s daughter Linda Sultemeier, who joined in Octobert 1959, assumes the mantle of longest-running membership with the church, Wofford told The News on Saturday.

Blackburn is survived by three daughters, including Sultemeier and Theresa Bradley, and their husbands, of Melrose, and Wanda Bowen of Yukon, Oklahoma.

One of Blackburn’s longtime friends, dating back to her days teaching school in House, told The News on Friday that she would miss her friend, who she knew as a “good neighbor and a happy person.”

“She was always positive. She was just a fun person to be around. I never heard her speak bad against anybody,” said Betty Upton. “She and I would go arrowhead hunting (on the Blackburn ranch). I’d like to go back and do that again, but I don’t think I could climb those hills.”


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