Melba Jane McKnight, age 88, of New Castle passed away Sunday morning, September 26, 2021 at Henry Community Health Center.
She was born in a farmhouse on Sulphur Springs Road on May 28, 1933, the daughter of Robert Hayes and Cora N.C. (Campbell) McLane; the granddaughter of Robert Cowan and Polly Jane (Jones) McLane and Albert Sweden and Minnie Frances (Marcum) Campbell.
Mrs. McKnight lived her entire life in Henry County. She resided with her family at 307 South 26th Street before moving to 1606 Roosevelt Avenue, and then to a farm on County Road 100 North, northwest of New Castle. She attended Sugar Grove and Westwood grade schools and New Castle Junior-Senior High School, graduating in 1951. She went on to attend Indiana Business College in New Castle, and then, Ball State University.
She had a long working career which included Bell Telephone Company, Henry County Savings and Loan (15 years), S.S. Kresge Company, W.T. Grants Department Store, Henry County Memorial Hospital (20 years), J.C. Penney Catalog in New Castle and J.C. Penny store at the Muncie Mall (seven years) and Modernfold. She owned and operated Jane’s Cute Crafts from her home.
On December 22, 1950, she married Samuel Rhoten Gann at the home of his parents at 2424 South Main Street. The couple moved to 407 Linden Drive in Spiceland where she lived until she purchased a home at 203 South 11th Street in New Castle in 1996.
After fourteen years of marriage, she was divorced from Samuel Gann in 1964. She married William Arthur McKnight, Jr., on June 29, 1967 at her home on South 11th Street. The officiant was William H. McKinney, minister of First Christian Church.
Following the lead of her parents and grandparents, Mrs. McKnight was active in local politics and community affairs. She was delegate to the Democratic National convention in Atlanta, Georgia in 1988. She was elected and served on the Henry Township Trustee’s Board for over 25 years. Mrs. McKnight served as Vice-chair of the Democrat party in Henry County for 20 years. She was a precinct committee chairman and was a delegate to the Indiana State Democrat Convention several times. In 1980, she ran for the office of County Court Clerk.
Active in two chapters of the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA), Mrs. McKnight was selected twice as “Woman of the Year”; once by the Silver Dawn Chapter and then again by the Raintree Chapter in 2009. She and her husband, Bill were active for decades in Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Melba served as a board member for twelve years and as president of the Board in 1980. She was a board member for the Hospital Hospitality House at Ball Memorial Hospital, and as such traveled to San Franciso for national convention.
Mrs. McKnight was a member of the Sarah Winston Henry Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and she served as Regent of the Chapter twice. Proud of her colonial Virginia ancestry, her line has been fully documented back to 1613 in Jamestown, Virginia. She has two ancestors that served directly under the command of George Washington during the French and Indiana War, and an ancestor who was George Rogers Clark’s Indian Spy. Mrs. McKnight was a member of the National Society of Colonial Dames of the XVII Century, the National Society Daughters of American Colonist, the Continental Society Daughters of Indian Wars, and a life member of the Jamestowne Society. For a number of years she was Indiana State Convenor for the Clan Maclean Association on the United States.
Church was at the center of Melba’s life. She was raised in the New Castle First Church of the Nazarene and was a founding member and treasurer of Spiceland Church of the Nazarene. She occasionally was asked to lead singing there. After her marriage to William McKnight, she and her husband became active in the First Christian Church where she served as both a board member and deacon. She and Bill were youth group leaders for many years.
Mrs. McKnight had many hobbies and interests. She loved writing poetry and several of her poems were published in poetry compilations. She enjoyed travel, and with her husband, she traveled throughout the United States and abroad, often tent camping. She made two trips across Europe, and also made a pilgrimage to the Holy Lane with her family in 1978. Her husband’s passion was skiing, and so, every winter season, she and Bill traveled to Snowshoe in West Virginia, as well as Copper Mountain and Vail in Colorado. They hiked to Appalachian Trail together, and visited historical sites and homes associated with colonial and early American history. They worked Nightclub for graduating seniors every year, helping to build sets and serve refreshments, usually in costume. In 1987, she was part of the Pan American Games torch relay. While physically able, they always had a large garden on the land that was still in her possession from her mother and father’s farm. Melba loved music and dancing, and her tastes were eclectic. She traveled several years with friends to Nashville for CMA Fest.
Left to cherish her loving memory include a son, Rick Gann (wife, Virginia Dickerson) of Indianapolis; a step-daughter, Sabra Bell (husband, Jack) of Indianapolis; stepson, Charles McKnight (wife, Beth) of New Castle; one brother, Robert McLane (Elizabeth) of Washington, Indiana; one sister, Carolyn Eads of Apache Junction, Arizona; four step-grandchildren, Adam (companion, Kim) Bell, Jeremy Bell, Layla and Harley McKnight; four step-great-grandchildren, Dakota Bell, Brittani Cowan, Piper and Reed Brummett; several nieces, nephews and cousins also survive.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Cora and Robert McLane; her husband of 50+ years, William McKnight whom passed away in November of 2018.
Funeral services will be held 2:00 p.m., Thursday, September 30, 2021 at the First Christian Church, 2000 Bundy Avenue, New Castle, Indiana with Pastor Ronn Oren officiating. Burial will follow at South Mound Cemetery. Friends may call from 12:00 p.m., until service time Thursday at the church. Macer-Hall-Marcum & Moffitt funeral directors and staff are honored to serve the McKnight family. Online condolences may be made at Memorial contributions may be directed to First Christian Church Foster Closet or to Believe and Achieve Mentoring, 1324 Church St., New Castle, In.