Melvin Milton (Mel) Gutknecht, 87, of Hazen, ND, died May 25, 2019 at home. Services will be held at 10:00 AM CDT on Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at Salem United Methodist Church with Pastor Corey Thrall and Pastor Walter Wolff officiating. Burial will follow at Hazen City Cemetery.
Visitation will be held one hour prior to the service at the church.
Melvin was born July 24, 1931, the son of August/Matilda (Reich) Gutknecht. He attended Red Butte Country School. As a youth, he learned about farming, welding, and developed a strong interest in mechanics and automobiles. He enjoyed his life’s work as an auto body repairman, mechanic, certified welder, self-employed farmer/rancher, business owner, and heavy equipment operator. He was a husband, father, and friend to many. Melvin was proud of his North Dakota heritage and his many classic automobile restoration projects.
In 1950, Mel completed an Auto Body Repair and Gas & Stick Welding Program at Wahpeton State School of Science. As a student, he worked as an auto body repairman for I.E. Lilligard Auto Dealership. After completing school, he returned to Hazen and took a job doing auto bodywork for Klaudt Sales & Service Dealership.
On October 14, 1951, Mel married Frances Klaudt, shortly after she graduated from Business College. They had six children. They farmed & ranched for 16 years, mostly east of Hazen. He believed that once you farm, no matter how many other things you do, “a part of you is always a farmer”. He also worked as a welder on the Garrison Dam spillway project. He supplemented their farm income by working briefly for the ND Dept. of Weights & Measures, while Frances worked as a bookkeeper/office manager in Hazen. Eventually they moved into town (Hazen).
In 1967, Mel and Frances bought a full-service gas station on Main Street in Hazen, operating it as Mel’s Standard Service. They then purchased Ogden Garage, an auto repair business, in Denver in 1969. Living in Aurora, CO, they were within walking distance of three schools, so each child could walk to school. He also worked as a AAA tow truck operator and for Woody’s Welding. In 1975, Mel, Frances and the youngest two of their six children, moved back to Hazen. For a brief time, Mel owned/operated the Massey Ferguson Dealership, known as Mel’s Hazen Tractor & Equipment. The following year, Mel was hired on at BNI Coal, Center, ND, first as a welder on the dragline project and then as a land reclamation heavy equipment operator. He retired from BNI Coal in 1995.
Starting in the mid-1970s, Mel pursued his dream of restoring and rebuilding classic vehicles, focusing on 1930-1950s Ford models, in addition to a 1966 Ford Mustang. He won two “Best of Show” awards at the Medora Car Show, where Mel and Frances were exhibitors for 25 consecutive years. In 2009, he acquired a 1923 Harley Davidson motorcycle & sidecar; completing its restoration in 2014. Sharing this experience with his family and friends was another dream come true.
Mel was a member of Salem United Methodist Church. He proudly supported his community by promoting Hazen as a Tree City USA and as Chairman of the City Forestry board. He helped construct the Louis & Clark RV Park and was a charter member of the Prairie Rose Car Club. Melvin and Frances enjoyed car shows, fishing, community events and time shared with friends, neighbors and family.
He is survived by six children, Bradley (Robin) Gutknecht, Susan (Randy) Williams, Jeffrey (Desi) Gutknecht, Beth (John) Tarduno, Ivy (Ken) Allen, and Milton Gutknecht; 20 grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; two sisters-in-law, Eveyln (Roy) Hoeven-Arterburn and Marion (Ado) Valge; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Mel was preceded in death by his wife, Frances, of 58 years who passed away in 2009, his parents, one sister and brother-in-law, two brothers, two sisters-in-law, and an infant granddaughter.
In lieu of flowers contributions can be made to Hazen Hospice (701) 748-7380 or The Melvin and Frances Gutknecht Classic Auto Scholarship at NDSCS by calling (701) 671-2131.
A gathering will be held on July 27, 2019 in celebration of Mel’s 88th birthday.
Arrangements are conducted by Barbot Funeral Home, Beulah and Hazen.