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Beacon Archive

December 2002
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Mel and Judy Bellamy – Swallowed into Heaven

On November 10th Mel and Judy Bellamy headed back to Beaver Island from Missouri in their Cessna 175, stopping to refuel in Fondulac Wisconsin early in the afternoon. When they failed to arrive, the Coast Guard began to search the intervening area, flying several missions over the next 48 hours. Reports of an oil slick on the lake proved erroneous, and hunters and members of the Civil Air Patrol roamed the woods along the flight path to no avail--although a plane that had gone down ten years ago was discovered in the dense brush. Not a trace of Mel and Judy were found, sending the Island into a stunned sadness.

For relatively new residents, Mel and Judy had a surprising number of good friends. They were always upbeat, friendly, and helpful. She was warm and insouciant, and a hard worker. Despite the obvious pain he was in from his scleroderma, he always was ready with a joke or clever remark. They were known for their faith, she as a regular member of Bible Study at the Christian Church, where he occasionally conducted a service or sang and played his guitar, and he as the AmVets chaplain.
They knew each other in high school. He grew up in a small stone house on a dairy farm in Newaygo. After graduating, he went to work for a lumber company, where he was challenged by the owner's hulking nephew. His response set the pattern for the independence he demonstrated for the rest of his life: a quiet request to settle it behind the barn after work, after which the bully never bothered him again. Mel became known as someone who wouldn't take any crap.

Shortly thereafter he entered the Marines, and fought in Viet Nam. In his first battle, his troop was moving up a hill when his buddy, walking at his side, was shot in the head. Mel turned as his friend fell, which saved his life: a bullet that had been fired towards the center of his forehead hit him at an angle, taking out a chunk of his eyebrow and sending a gusher of blood down his face. As he was recovering he was told he would receive the purple heart once the medic wrote up his injury, but before he could, the medic was blown up by an incoming shell. The paperwork went up in smoke; Mel didn’t get his medal for 30 years, but this didn't bother him. Patched up, he went back to the trenches and served out his term.
Returning to southern Michigan, he and Judy married and started a family, producing Missey, Mike, and Jennifer. He worked in a sawmill, as a heavy equipment operator, and then as a truck driver. He always had an airplane; he and Judy loved to fly. The Marines had a need for his charisma and experience, and he was recruited to help prepare the men.

Nearing fifty, in the prime of his life, he was visited by scleroderma, a rare chronic autoimmune disease (one of the rheumatic disorders) that affects 300,000 Americans. Called the "stone disease," it hardened his muscles and sent spasms of pain through his body, forcing him to use a cane. He was on full disability, but on good days he and Judy worked to expand and enhance the small home they had converted from a garage at Cable's Bay. She also ran a low-key but highly sought-after cleaning service from their home, was the AmVets Auxiliary Treasurer, and was never seen without a broad smile.
He was an avid outdoorsman who intended to go deer hunting with his brother once again this year. He and Judy were anxious to make it back in time for the Marines' Banquet on Sunday night; Mel was supposed to speak at the flag-raising ceremony held the following day, Veterans' Day. When the Coast Guard could not find a trace of their plane and finally gave up the search, the prevailing blanket of sadness made it seem like the entire Island was crying. We have lost a part of us, two good human beings.

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