MADISON, Wis. - Melba Rigoni passed away at the home of her elder daughter in Boyertown, Pa., on Nov. 29, 2013.
Born too small in October 1918, her parents Matti and Alina (Mattson) Kinnunen feared she might not survive. They put her in a shoebox and set her atop the open door of their wood-burning cook stove, where Melba stayed warm.
Melba attended a one-room schoolhouse near the family's farm in South Carey and graduated from Hurley High School in 1935.
Using scholarship funds from the local Women's Club and a $5 loan from her grandmother, Melba traveled to Milwaukee to continue her education at Layton School of Art (now Milwaukee School of Design). She graduated from Layton in June 1940.
As part of Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal," Melba moved to the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation in search of Native American women willing to participate in a Works Progress Administration program. The goal was to create traditional native crafts for display in American museums. Some of these crafts remain archived at the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum, Madison.
When funding for this program ceased, the U.S. Indian Service employed Melba as a K-12 and adult education art instructor.
Melba left that position in 1943 to marry Albino Rigoni. Together they made a home in Ironwood, Mich., where they raised their two daughters.
While their girls were growing, Melba was hired by the Michigan Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to begin a program for adults who had disabling conditions. She started and supervised a similar program at the Wakefield Medical Care facility before becoming an instructor at Look Up Sheltered Workshop in Hurley.
A trained and skilled watercolorist, Melba began painting again after her daughters graduated from university. She took refresher art courses at Gogebic Community College, which later hired her as an instructor. She also taught art at Indianhead Vocational Technical School in Ashland, as well as giving art demonstrations and workshops across the Gogebic Range.
In 2006, the Range Art Association honored Melba as its longest actively-participating member at the association's 50th anniversary celebration.
Ever a learner, Melba attended numerous Elder Hostel sessions and earned her Associate of Arts degree in 1980.
Melba moved to the Madison home of her younger daughter in 2007.
No longer able to hold a watercolor brush for extended periods of time, Melba turned her artistic energies to writing poetry and stories of her youth to share with family and friends. Some of these are compiled in two self-published books.
A portion of Melba's prose and poetry has been set to music and is ready for publishing by masonmeyersmusic.com. Northern Michigan University's chamber ensemble, The Open Mind Chamber Ensemble, plans to present this musical work in concert as part of their 2014 season.
Melba is survived by her children, Victoria (Dave) Brown, Boyertown, and Marjorie (Gaetano) Aiello, Madison; beloved grandchildren, Leah Springman (Charlie Anderson), Lindsey Monachello, Matthew (Jodi Harvey-Brown) Brown and Andrea Brown; and treasured great-grandchildren, Alicia, Anthony, Zachary, Iris and Charlie. Melba is further survived by siblings, Wilma (James) Tucker, Waynesville, Mo., Carl Kinnunen, Ironwood, Donald (LuDawn) Kinnunen, Baden Pa., Elaine (Don) Worman, Laurel, Md., Edwin (Shirley) Kinnunen, Stoughton, Richard (Carol) Kinnunen, Iron Belt, and Katherine Sandman, Wisconsin Rapids; and numerous nieces and nephews, of whom she was proud.
Preceding Melba in death were her husband, Albino; a sister, Gertrude Hewitt; and brothers, Leonard Kinnunen and Raymond Kinnunen.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, 401 S. Owen Drive, Madison, with Monsignor Kenneth Fiedler presiding.
Visitation will be held at the church from 10 a.m. until the time of Mass.
Memories may be shared at cressfuneralservice.com. Arrangements are by Cress Funeral and Cremation Services, 3610 Speedway Road, Madison, 608-238-3434.