Longtime Jacksonville resident and retired banker Melda Rice is turning 100. A birthday celebration will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Jacksonville First United Methodist Church youth building.
Rice was born on June 28, 1917, in Perry County. Her dad was a county judge and state welfare commissioner. Her mother was an assistant postmaster and a school teacher. Together they operated a general mercantile store.
Rice graduated from Perry High School in 1934. She met her husband, Ben, when he came to Perryville. He was a county extension service agent. They married in 1936 and were together for 45 years until his death in 1981.
They had a son, attorney Ben E. Rice, who passed away in 2014. Melda has three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
The Rices moved to central Arkansas in 1942, when her husband’s two brothers visited and asked him to run the family farm in Furlow.
Melda worked at the Arkansas Ordnance Plant in Jacksonville from 1942 to 1945. She was happy making about $3 a day.
“Farming was not a profitable business. I was cooking for my husband and three helpers at the farm,” she said.
She was a secretary and clerk in the shipping and receiving department. She wrote bills of lading on boxcars to return materials as the plant closed down after the end of World War II.
Rice said the plant “was a new and different world of interesting people. I made some mighty good friends.”
She drove to work in a carpool with two carpenters Joe Bob Lee and Max Nailling and high school senior Beulah Garringer.
“Military Road was not paved. In the winter the ruts were very deep and in the summer the car had no air conditioning. You either got covered in dust or you rolled up the windows and burned up,” Rice recalled.
The Rices sold the farm in 1945 and moved to Jacksonville since Melba was working at the AOP.
The couple lived in the Sunnyside Addition, where houses did not have natural gas but had kerosene tanks. They later built one of the first houses on North James Street.
After the AOP closed in 1945, Rice was hired as a Jacksonville High School secretary for three years.
“It was a good school. Many teachers lived in Little Rock and liked working here,” she said.
When Jacksonville State Bank (now First Arkansas Bank and Trust) opened in 1949, Rice she was hired as a cashier. She worked 33 years at the bank until retiring in 1982.
“When we came here there was no bank. The school did not have a football team. A lot of people wanted improvements and worked to get them,” she said.
Rice is member of Jacksonville First United Methodist Church, where she was the pianist and organist. She plays cards at the Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center.
“Some of my best friends are there,” she said.
Rice gave some secrets for her longevity.
“God is good, and I used a treadmill 10 minutes a day for exercise,” she said.
Rice gives a lot of credit to her daughter-in-law, Susan.
“She is the daughter I didn’t have,” Rice said.
“She has been like a mother to me,” Susan Rice said. “She always wants me to do something for someone else. She is a a sweet lady.”
Melda has a brother, Carl Adams, 95, who lives in Hot Springs. Their sister, Farrell, passed away.
Her advice for a long life is, “Do the best you can at what you want to do.”