Retired Arlington Schoolteacher Makes Major Gift

The surprise donation has allowed the Arlington Free Clinic to expand its dental care services.

The dental exam rooms, slated to open in November, will be set up in the spot where Mellon usually sorts and organizes medications and supplies.

“Most of our patients have never seen a dentist,” White says. A majority are referred to the clinic from area hospitals, have no insurance and often work multiple jobs. “There’s no time for anything that’s not urgent.” But what doesn’t appear urgent may become so. Gum disease can increase the risk for stroke, heart disease and more. Experts believe there is a link between good oral care and better overall health.

AFC’s hope is that housing the dental program inside the medical offices will make it easier for patients to take care of multiple health needs all at once.

Mellon doesn’t want it to stop there. She dreams of someday seeing a children’s clinic built nearby, further expanding the one-stop care options for families. “If you can put that bug in someone’s ear,” she says.

Child welfare has been a lifelong concern for Mellon, who spent 33 years as a special education teacher for Arlington County schools before retiring in 1995. As a young girl, she had watched a classmate struggling to learn and knew what she wanted to do. She began her teaching career in New Jersey, later moving to Arlington to teach at K.W. Barrett Elementary. That was in 1962. She also taught at Key, Drew, Oakridge and Long Branch, saving money all the while.

To improve her salary potential, she studied during summers and earned a master’s degree from what was then George Peabody College for Teachers, now part of Vanderbilt University. She did additional coursework and invested her paychecks, taking advantage of free art museums and concerts for fun. She helped her students to tap into those options, too—planning field trips into D.C. via Metro so that they’d learn how to count money, hold on to train tickets and appreciate art, including their own.

“Of course we didn’t go at rush hour,” she says.

After she retired from teaching, Mellon volunteered at the Kennedy Center, Capital Caring and the Arlington Free Clinic. She browsed thrift stores and yard sales for dishes and other items that she purchased and donated to Clarendon House, a rehabilitation program for adults with mental illness. She also donated to Doorways for Women and Families and the Himalayan Cataract Project.

Her recent gift to the Arlington Free Clinic is noteworthy—so much so that it prompted the Virginia General Assembly to pass a resolution in her honor. But she doesn’t like the spotlight. She just wants to make a difference.

“You want to be contributing to the planet,” Kirchenbauer summarizes.

“Yes,” Mellon agrees. “That’s the whole thing. I want this place to be a little better than when I found it.”


Madelyn Rosenberg lives in Arlington where she writes books for children.

Categories: People