Merle, who was born in Ventura, Calif. grew up near the small village of Nelson in Douglas County and now lives at Nelson Gables in Alexandria. “I grew up about a mile and a half east of the old creamery in Nelson,” he said, explaining why he still considers himself, in his words, “just a country boy.” This talented man is humble while describing his youth.
“I went to country school at Union Lake until the teacher flunked me when I was 10. She thought I was too slow. She said it wasn’t worth the time to ask me questions. I think it was because of my cleft palate. I had a little harder time talking,” Merle explained. “I just figured, why bother? I’m just a country boy.”
Merle enlisted in the Navy as soon as he could, at 18 years of age, and became a cook. While serving in World War II, Merle was on a transport ship, going up and down the west coast to the state of Washington and other destinations. He was onboard ship from Hawaii to the Philippines. When the war was over he was on the shores of Japan; however, did not get off ship to go ashore. He smiled, “I went under the Golden Gate Bridge lots of times, but never over it.” Merle Higley, humble country boy, has a wonderful sense of humor.
Merle went back to the farm after the war and never left. He didn’t realize it at first, that artistic talent within his soul, until his mother noticed his work and encouraged him to paint. He continued to farm the land and occasionally dabbled in painting. Farming came first. After all, he’s “just a country boy.”
Although self-taught, Merle has taken a few painting classes and said, “If I don’t like something, I just paint over the whole thing and start over.” His favorite subject has been his purebred Arabian horse named Four-White-Socks. He bought his prized horse at four months old and has both photographs and paintings of his horse splashed throughout his albums and stacks of paintings.
Merle also loves to paint scenery, flowers, animals, really anything in nature. He has entered paintings in the Douglas County Fair and has earned a first-place ribbon. At Nelson Gables alone there are paintings in the dining and activities rooms, the care attendant’s office, and the office of Linda Namur, director of Residential Services. Merle has donated several paintings to his home church, Alexandria’s First Congregational UCC-United Church of Christ, where a number of his paintings are displayed. The country boy at heart doesn’t see himself as a celebrity of sorts; however, everyone seems to know Merle and his paintings.
Even great painters take a break now and then, and Merle is no exception. That doesn’t mean he sits idle. He is now retired from farming and has been a volunteer at Knute. A well-kept secret might be that he taught his sister how to dance and admitted that they won a dance contest “a long time ago, at the Hillside Supper Club in Alexandria.”
Merle Higley, who lives in a apartment at Nelson Gables, will continue to paint at his table filled with acrylics and brushes. It’s the first thing you see when you enter his apartment, and yet, the real centerpiece of his home is his talent.