BAXTER — Two Brainerd Dispatch newsroom employees scurried into the back of Lord of Life Lutheran Church Thursday — late for a funeral.
It was, perhaps, an unintentional tribute to Joe Melby, the longtime Dispatch printer, who had spent much of his newspaper career waiting for a layout dummy or a late photo or story in order to put Page1A to bed.
Melby, who died Saturday at the age of 82, at his Baxter home, worked in the Dispatch composing room longer than anyone here can really remember, retiring in 1993.
Armed with an X-Acto knife and seated in front of a newspaper page, Melby was a steadying force who helped more than one young journalist who was trying to get the newspaper out in time. Always quick with a joke or a smart remark, Melby never could quite mask his caring nature when someone was in trouble. He was the first guy to pitch in and do what needed to be done when deadline pressure mounted.
His good works weren’t limited to the newspaper of course. He was a stellar family man and one of Crow Wing County’s most noted volunteers. He and his wife, Elsie, were honored as 2008 Outstanding Crow Wing County Senior Citizens of the Year for the countless hours they helped those who were less fortunate.
The reaction to his death at this newspaper was universal. Everyone said “what a great guy,” and then followed it up by remembering a funny story involving the rail-thin, bespectacled printer who made coming to work a pleasure.
Rest in peace, Joe Melby.