John William Melcher, age 91, passed away peacefully at St Mary's Care Center on October 11, 2012 in the presence of family. John was born February 2, 1921 in Waukegan, Illinois to John Henry Melcher and Clara Gladys (Dring) Melcher. He grew up in West Allis and graduated from the Milwaukee State Teachers College in 1943 with a B.S. in Education of Exceptional Children. While in college, he met the love of his life, Beatrice Jean Hagensick who he married on September 1, 1945. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps Flight Program in 1943, completing navigator training in San Marcos TX. He was commissioned a warrant officer and was assigned to the 95th Bomb Group in Horham, England. He served as a navigator on eight B-17 missions over Europe, including a fateful mission on November 2, 1944 to the IG Farben synthetic oil refinery Merseburg, Germany. The B-17 was hit by artillery flak and was unable to stay with the formation. John was severely wounded and rendered unconscious from loss of blood. With survival uncertain, crewmembers considered attaching a parachute and dropping him from the B-17. Fortunately he was revived and managed to remain alert and chart a return course to avoid enemy flak for the 2 ½ hour return to England. For this "conspicuous gallantry", he was awarded a Silver Star. He also received a Purple Heart and Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters. After spending more than a year in military hospitals, he was discharged from the army in 1946.He taught in the Milwaukee Public Schools from 1946 until 1949 when he was hired as a Consulting Psychologist and Supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. In 1956, he was promoted to Assistant State Superintendent of Schools with responsibility for all state programs for handicapped children including the state schools for the deaf and blind. He retired from the DPI in 1983. He received an M.S. in Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1952. John was a lecturer at UW Madison and UW Whitewater and consulted with schools across the country. John was a national and international leader in his field. He served on President Kennedy's Task Force on the Education of the Mentally Retarded in 1961, including a special mission to the Netherlands. In 1969, John was President of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education and was President of the Council for Exceptional Children and he served on President Nixon's Task Force on the Physically Handicapped. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Cardinal Stritch College in 1972 and was a member of the U.S. State Department's Mission of the Handicapped to the Soviet Union in that same year. .He served on many state associations and committees and was named the Outstanding Educator Award from the Wisconsin association of School district Administrators in 1978.After retiring in 1983 John was able to spend summers with Bea at their cabin on Finley Lake in Vilas County where they enjoyed spending time with their children and grandchildren. He was an avid collector, refurbisher, and seller of antique farm tools. John loved as he did while an educator; he enjoyed travels to rural parts of Wisconsin for farm auctions and to sell his tools.
John and Bea were happily married for over 67 years. He was a loving son, brother, father, and grandfather who is sadly missed by his sister Pat Renk, sons John, Pete, Tom, Dan, and Jim, daughter Mary Smith, granddaughters Sarah James, Laura Melcher, Maggie Melcher, Molly Smith, and Megan Smith and grandsons Bob Melcher and Nick Melcher and great granddaughter Anna James. He was preceded in death by, his parents, his sisters Geri Duncan and Edith Sabinash and his brothers Ralph Melcher and Wally Melcher.
Visitation will be from 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, October 17, at OUR LADY QUEEN OF PEACE CATHOLIC CHURCH, 401 S. Owen Dr., Madison, WI 53711, where a Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 am followed by a reception at the church.
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I joined the department nine years before John's retirement. He was and remains an icon for those of us who choose to work on behalf of children with disabiliites. He brought a powerful sense of mission to our joint work and did so with integrity and dedication. He was one of my first, and still one of my best mentors. I am very saddened for our loss and wish the best for Bea and all John's family who have been blessed with long years with this fine man.
Dear Bea & Family, So very sorry for your loss. Please know that John left a lasting personal and professional impact on all of us who worked with him and for him at DPI. John was the most honorable, ethical professional as well as a most gentle man. With his charismatic personality and lazar-like focus on 'what's best for the children,' education for ALL children in Wisconsin flourished. John was a remarkable role model, mentor and friend. Prayers for you all. J
Dear Family and Friends, I was very sorry to read of John's passing. Our thoughts are with you during this very difficult time. I started teaching special education in 1965 at Lakeland School in Elkhorn. Shortly after starting John came to Lakeland to visit and I had the opportunity to meet him. I then got involved in special education administration and in 1971 did an internship with John at DPI. I had the great pleasure to spend many hours in meetings, conferences, and at speeches John gave over the years. He did more for special education and students with disabilities than anyone else in the state and nation. He has been greatly missed since his retirement as he will be missed by his family and friends in the future.
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