Melessie Gardenhire was born to Rev. William M. Gardenhire and Della Reed Gardenhire on New Year!s Eve — December 31,1918. Mrs. Frazier, a midwife in Wagener, South Carolina, was present for the joyous birth of Melessie and her twin sister, Gladys Gardenhire. Melessie was the eleventh child of thirteen children. Her brothers and sisters were: John, Sterling, Rose, Pearl, Cleveland, Willie S., Jeraline, Peter, Dewey, Gladys (her Twin), Alma, and Artis. Melessie spent her childhood growing up on the family farm in an area known as "Kitchen Mills” in rural South Carolina.
Melessie was baptized at Jerusalem Baptist Church at an early age, where her father, Rev. W. M. Gardenhire, was the co-founder and pastor. Melessie assisted her father with all of the jobs and chores to help maintain a working farm. She plowed the fields, picked corn and cotton, bailed hay, milked cows, and fed the farm animals. At the age of 11, she started to cook for her family because her elder sisters, Rose and Pearl, had left home and moved North. Until her sisters left, she had always helped them prepare the family meals. Melessie learned to cook by watching other people in the kitchen.
On December 18, 1935, Melessie gave birth to her son, Eugene Gardenhire. Melessie's brothers left South Carolina for opportunities in the North. Her father was older and was unable to continue managing their farm. In 1938, the family moved to Philadelphia. Upon arriving in Philadelphia, Melessie found a job doing domestic work, cooking and cleaning. On August 14, 1939, Melessie gave birth to her second child, Della Mae Gardenhire. Melessie soon moved to New Jersey and lived with her aunt, Hattie Rowe. Melessie worked for several families as a housekeeper and nanny. Her most memorable family was Mr. and Mrs. Barnes and their daughter, Mrs. Applebee. Melessie assisted them for over 15 years and kept in contact with the family for many years..
As a young woman, Melessie enjoyed singing gospel spirituals. She sang in the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir and held the office of Treasurer. The church choir performed in various churches in the Eastern area. In 1962, Melessie moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to help her sister, Rose, during her illness. Melessie was hired as a cook for Mrs. Benjamin Tate of Indian Hills. She cooked for Mrs. Tate and her family for over 21 years. Melessie retired when Mrs. Tate passed away.
Melessie joined Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Cincinnati. She was an active choir member and served as choir treasurer. She would often prepare food for church events and bake sales. In addition, she would take meals to nursing homes in Cincinnati for patients who did not have family to assist in their care. Melessie is known for her preparation of many dishes. The most requested items were her desserts, especially cookies, cakes, and cobblers. She often shared her recipes, but only if you agreed to use the finest ingredients available.
In February 1980, Melessie married Shedrick Holt. It was a treat to go to their home. Uncle Shed would always serve you a big bowl of ice cream, and Melessie would encourage you to grab a treat from her candy bowl or 7-up from her refrigerator. Every meal Melessie served was like Thanksgiving. Melessie would cook grand, home-cooked meals using only the finest ingredients. She did so much cooking on the stove; it would warm the whole house. After dinner, their quiet time was in the evening when Uncle Shed and Melessie would sit on their front porch. Unfortunately, Uncle Shed passed away in 1994 after 14 blissful years of marriage.
Melessie soon became unable to drive to Mt. Zion Church in Woodlawn , Oh. She decided to join Zion Baptist Church that was located right across the street from her home. Melessie had many talents. She taught herself how to quilt years ago and made quilts for babies, newlyweds, and graduates. These quilts are treasured gifts lovingly made by hand for family and friends.
Melessie lived in Avondale since she arrived in Cincinnati. In 1962, She moved from her home on Glenwood Avenue to the Maple Knoll retirement community. Melessie spent her time making new friends, worshiping at the community church, and attending various social gatherings. Family and friends visited her often and enjoyed meals with a can of 7-up or other refreshments.
Melessie spent her final days at Brookdale Finneytown in Cincinnati. At 102, she enjoyed a carefree and fulfilling life in a homelike setting. And while the COVID-19 pandemic limited visitors, Melessie had an excellent care team to meet her specific needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She will be greatly missed by family and friends and those who came to visit and assist her -- as she did so many others -- during her long life.
Melessie leaves to cherish her memory; a son, Eugene Gardenhire, a daughter, Della Mae Dixon; 5 grandchildren: Eugene Gardenhire Jr.,Theresa Coles, Dannette Dixon, Linda Dixon( deceased), and Michel Dixon; 8 great-grandchildren; 13 great great grandchildren; and daughter-in-law, Rossie Gardenhire, all of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; nieces, nephews, cousins, and many friends.
Thank you for planting, nurturing and growing a garden of lives, with wisdom and understanding to feed the world.
-Love, your Family