Dunedin loses a friend in history | North County
On November 3, Melba Rilott passed away in her sleep. She has been a very active member in various organizations in Dunedin, particularly over the past 30 years at the Dunedin History Museum.
Melba was born November 8, 1937 in Belleville, St. Clair, Illinois and graduated from Brown’s Business College in Illinois. Melba married Ronald Rilott and moved to Dunedin in 1968, where Ron and Melba owned and operated the Dunedin Mobile Manor mobile home park. Melba served for many years on the Pension Board of the United Methodist Conference, and was a member of the board of directors of other organizations such as the Upper Pinellas Association for Special Needs Citizens, Special Olympics Group Homes, Friends of the Palm Harbor Library, Downtown Rotary and Inner Wheel Group, Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch, The Orange Belt Quilt Club, Florida Conference Historical Society and projects at Mease Manor.
Melba was instrumental in helping the Dunedin History Museum become a well-known, respectable community museum. Melba served on the Board of Trustees of the Dunedin History Museum for 15 years and on the Long Term Donation Committee. Melba, along with two other members of the board, chose me in 1995 to be the museum’s first director.
Melba’s contributions to the museum range from cash donations for events such as the Dunedin Express, History Comes Alive, temporary exhibitions, as well as large donations that have enhanced the growth of the museum.
Some of these projects included in 2008 funding the renovation of the museum gallery’s temporary freight room, and then launching a campaign to add an upstairs conference room with funds from counterpart of the city that bears his name – “The Melba Rilott Conference Hall”.
She received the Story Designer of the Year award in 1981 and received the Lifetime Volunteerism Award in 2009. The following year Melba donated funds for artist Steve Spathelf to paint two murals. historically detailed passenger counters for the exhibit counters in the train room. Another of her accomplishments was a grant she wrote to replace the windows of the Andrews Memorial Chapel in Hammock Park. Melba’s largest and most recognizable contribution to the Dunedin History Museum are the three bronze statues of a conductor, mother and daughter trying to get on a train, outside the new entrance to the museum gift shop. In 2013, Melba personally paid for the entire project and designed and managed it with the director from start to finish. Today the statues are a landmark of the city center and also the new logo of the museum.
The museum has truly lost a friend to the museum, the city of Dunedin and its history. Melba’s legacy as a philanthropist will live on through his many contributions, especially his favorite âAll Aboard! Â»Bronze statues in front of the historic train station.
Melba’s three surviving daughters are Rhonda Rae, Robin Renee and Randi Roxanne and their families. Melba’s greatest loves were for her family, friends, and her efforts as a philanthropist.
Vinnie Luisi is director of the Dunedin History Museum.