A Life Lived: Merle Irick did two things well: working and giving

Published 4:27 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Editorial Director
It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. Merle Irick was that kind of person. She excelled at work and giving.
Merle could do almost anything she set her mind to do. She was a retired truck driver, driving big rigs for 13 years – sometimes with double trailers. She was also a decent auto mechanic, good enough that she worked on her own car and kept it running.
In addition to those chores, she was a wife and mother, raised a garden, and at one time, when she lived in Oregon, Merle and her husband, Jack had a farm on which they raised chickens, hogs, and cattle. “They had 300 hogs and a bunch of cows,” said Merle’s daughter, Lynn.
She noted that when they lived in Oregon, her mother also worked for a brief time in a shrimp factory, picking shrimp and cracking crabs. Another time, Merle and Jack ran a 24-hour service station. Both worked a 12-hour shift; one did the day shift, and the other night shift.
“My mom was not afraid of work. In addition to work outside the home, she raised us kids, and was very involved in her church,” Lynn added.
Merle died Sept. 1 at the age of 82. She grew up in the Elk Mills Community and was the daughter of Norman and Louise Miller Church. She was one of seven children. Three brothers and a sister preceded her in death.
Merle married her sweetheart shortly after graduating high school, and had her four kids in about four years. “We were close together in age, but we also were best friends growing up,” said son, Larry, who now lives in Tazwell, Va. Lynn lives in Elizabethton, and a second brother, Jeff lives in Oak Ridge. A third son, Thomas is deceased.
Although most would consider gardening work, for Merle it was a fun thing to do. She also enjoyed fishing. “She was a hard worker and tough as nails, but she was a very gentle and giving person,” said Lynn.
The family moved back to Elizabethton from Oregon in 1969, and Lynn and her siblings attended school at East Side, T.A. Dugger Jr. High, and Elizabethton High. “We were poor in some ways, but rich in other ways. Our needs were always met, and we had plenty to eat, warm clothes to wear in the winter, and loving parents. I remember when I was in the fourth grade and it was nearing Thanksgiving, a friend I were playing outside at recess. It was cold and my friend wore only a sweater.  I asked her where her coat was, and she said she didn’t have one. I remembered crying and telling my mother about it when I went home from school. My mother later took that friend and her younger brother shopping and bought them a warm coat and shoes. A few days later, she made a Thanksgiving dinner and took it to their home. That was the kind of person my mother was. Many Thanksgivings she made dinner not only for us, but dinner for another family as well,” said Lynn.
“At Christmas we didn’t decorate. Mom took the money we would have spent on decorating and helped needy people with it,” added Larry.
Merle was always involved with children, especially hers. She was a Cub Scout leader, involved in PTA, and her main activity outside the home was her church. She was youth leader at the church for many years, and was over the Helping Hands ministry at Elk Mills Christian Church. “If there was a need, and she knew about it, she found a way for the church to take care of it,” Larry shared. She was also a Sunday School teacher for the teens.
Lynn said her mother was an excellent seamstress, noting that one year when she was a cheerleader, she made all the cheerleader costumes for the squad. One of Merle’s favorite pastimes was making dolls, which a friend sold in her shop. “She gave her dolls personality,” said Lynn.
For a while she worked as a cook at the East Tennessee Christian Home. Lynn and Larry described their mother as a “country” cook. “Her meatloaf, fried chicken, and potato salad were always a favorite at church and family gatherings. She also made good banana pudding,” said Larry
Merle’s minister, described her as a backbone of the church. “I could always count on her to be there when no one else showed up. She was faithful to the church and to the Lord,” said the minister. 
“She was active with the youth, and was always doing for others. That was when she was the happiest, when she was doing for others,” said Lynn.
“My mother had a beautiful singing voice. Every Christmas at church, they would ask her to sing “Little Drummer Boy.”
“She was so scared, she would stand and sing it with her eyes closed,” Lynn shared with a smile.
“There was not much my mother couldn’t do. She was a doer. She was a giver. She was a saint. She taught me and my brothers what it is to love others,” said Lynn in a broken voice.
Merle Irick was that person, who began each day with purpose and intent. She always showed up and never gave up. And, she believed anything is possible if you are willing to work for it.