Melvin D. Wattles

Melvin D. Wattles (George) was born in Kearney, Neb. Dec. 2, 1931, to Melvin A. and Vera (Rowe) Wattles. He passed away in Fountain Hills on Nov. 11, 2020. His family meant everything to him, and they were there when he passed on.

His strong work ethic began as a 12-year-old working at the shoeshine parlor on Central Ave., and in his high school years at the World Theatre and the Ft. Kearney Hotel where celebrities often came through. As a little boy, he was excited to see the great airplanes headed to war from the Kearney Air Force Base. He developed his lifelong love of cars working at a gas station and a used car lot in high school.

He began military training for the Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas during the Korean War and was later stationed at the Denver AF Base as an instructor of card punch IBM machines.

In 1956 he graduated from UNK where he earned his BA in education, later to achieve his MS in Education. His 36-year high school teaching career included Gibbon, Amherst, and KHS. He was honored with the Nebraska Industrial Arts Teacher of the Year Award. His greatest teaching achievement was the Construction Tech class he developed at KHS where he designed and built 17 homes with students. He taught young men the skills of housebuilding, pride in craftsmanship, and responsibility.

He presented himself with a challenge by designing and building his own nine homes, including the A-Frame, one of the few in Nebraska. Many other homes in Kearney were designed by him.

In his retirement, he started an online business, restoring antique radios that sold all over the world. He supported Virginia’s desire to be a full-time artist often building her frames and doing everything he could to support her art. His good times with pals at McDonalds kept him laughing every morning. Mel and Virginia moved to Arizona to be near their daughter and grandsons.

He is survived by his wife, Virginia Wattles of Fountain Hills; his daughter, Kelli Lawhead of Fountain Hills; his son, Todd M. Johnson of Washington D.C.; his grandsons, Grant Urbom of Fountain Hills, Alex Urbom, of Los Angeles, Calif.; and granddaughter, Kate (Johnson) Salokorpi of Santa Barbara, Calif. He was preceded in death by his parents, Melvin A. and Vera Wattles.

There will be a memorial honoring Mel in Kearney later in the Spring when hopefully travel is safer. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to Kearney Area Animal Shelter. Mel always had a dog or two in his home.

Messinger Mortuary Fountain Hills is in charge of arrangements. Comments can be sent to their website at