Marilda White, aka Mel, was born in Iowa in 1948. Her dad was in the Navy so she grew up all over the United States. She remembers going to six different grade schools.
Mel says, “My parents had wheels for feet and we were constantly moving.”
You’d think constantly changing schools and homes would have made Mel introverted, but on the contrary, she became outgoing and resilient. In high school, she received an award as the most valuable senior, and excelled in music, vocal, band and theater. Her loving and open personality continues to draw others to her to this day.
Mel earned a bachelor of science in recreational education and used her degree to follow many paths. She administered a home ownership program for low-income people in Colorado, worked with the big sister program in Denver, and always gravitated to social service organizations and work that helped other people.
Later, she went into journalism, writing for newspapers and periodicals. She has had a couple of books published, and her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including Sunset Magazine. Mel says one of her favorite jobs was working for newspapers covering sports events. Her father was an amateur photographer and shared his love for photography with Mel. She loved to take pictures, and she combined her talent with the camera and journalism as she conquered the field. Currently, she has a regular column in Tehachapi’s Loop.
In 1986, her parents moved to Tehachapi. Mel was living in Sonoma then and visited them often. Her dad became ill in 2000, and Mel came to the valley to help her family. She always thought she would settle up north, but a week after her dad died, Mel’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. Mel stayed in Tehachapi and has been here ever since.
She says she loves the scenery, the small town feeling, the wildflowers, and the four seasons. And most of all, Mel says, “The people here are some of the best people I’ve ever met. Even though I planned to just come and help my family, I’m glad I stayed. My mom and I were very close and shared so many memories. Tehachapi became more than home for me.”
After the death of her mom in 2002 and her sister Sandra in 2003, Mel had to decide what to do. She had established herself with Gallery 'N' Gifts, and now was deciding whether to travel or to continue in Tehachapi, pursuing the arts. Mel had always been adventurous. She had previously done two cross-country trips, has always loved to drive, and once, she even rode her motorcycle through eight states on the way to Iowa.
“I love the idea of driving and going somewhere. I especially love weekend trips and day trips,” said Mel. Fortunately for the residents of Tehachapi, Mel put travel aside for a season and chose the arts.
She hooked up with fellow artist Pat James. Together, they envisioned a privately owned cooperative, which showcased local artists and held classes. In 2004, Mel rented a place with a yard and held lots of outdoor activities. It soon became a local hotspot known as The Tehachapi Art Center. One of the artists at the art center wanted a “real gallery.” She talked Mel into opening Crossroads in 2005, which was a dedicated fine art gallery. After the opening, they started First Friday in conjunction with the Tehachapi Art Center. Mel says she hasn’t missed a First Friday since they began in 2006. She even scheduled her recent knee surgery around the First Friday date to make sure she could attend.
Then in 2012, along with three of the artists from Crossroads, Mel established another gift to the community. They closed Tehachapi Art Center and Crossroads, and opened the Tehachapi Treasure Trove.
“It is more than just an art center; it’s full of treasures,” said Mel. “I get so excited when someone paints their first picture, sells a painting or learns a new skill. It’s all about people supporting people. I like it when people are encouraged to try things and do things. The bottom line and what’s really important is that people can feel safe. The Treasure Trove has become like a family. This is where I meet the most important people in my life."
Mel’s advice to others is: “If there is something you want to do just do it! Even if people tell you it won’t make you money. Time is precious and everything can turn on a dime. You just have to go for it. Just do it!”
And that’s exactly what Mel White has done. Her vision has become a composite reality of all her travels, journeys and interests. And that vision has become a true gift to all of us.
Judith Campanaro is the author of "The Wisdom Keepers: Tehachapi Women of Substance."