by Moira Cullings
BONNER SPRINGS — Melba Mills thought she’d never see a Kansas City Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium.
After all, the opportunity had not yet come up — and she was now 100 years old.
Yet, there she was, on the field before the home opener, shaking the hand of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and accepting the football he practiced with before the game.
“When I was out on the field and he came up to me, he said, ‘I hear this is your big day. I got something for you,’” said Melba.
“And then he handed me that football. I think they had to carry me off the field,” she added, elated.
The Chiefs chose Melba as their featured 100-year-old fan during this 100th season of the National Football League.
The NFL produced a video about Melba, which has been viewed on social media around one million times. You can find it on Facebook here.
In the same week, the Chiefs treated her to a private tour of Arrowhead and hosted her and her family at the Sept. 22 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
A lifelong Bonner Springs resident and member of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Shawnee, Melba’s humor, wisdom and faith have impacted her family and friends — and now the Chiefs Kingdom — for an entire century.
An unexpected conversion
“My Catholic faith is everything,” said Melba, who will turn 101 on Dec. 7.
But Melba didn’t grow up Catholic, and throughout her childhood, propaganda painted the church in a negative light.
“I would not walk past a Catholic church,” she said. “When I was going to high school, I’d go around the other side because I thought the pope had an arsenal in the basement.”
Years later, Melba went on to do something she never imagined — she married a Catholic.
Melba occasionally attended Mass with her husband Maurice, but found more enjoyment in bringing him to the Christian Church down the street, where she belonged, to show him what he was missing.
“I’d think, ‘Now he’ll see the difference,’” she said. “We didn’t have to kneel, we didn’t have to do [the religious rituals] that he had to do.”
But after a while, Melba started attending classes at St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, to learn more about the faith and eventually met with the priest one-on-one.
“I said to myself, ‘When I get through enlightening him, he’s going to take that collar off and follow me,’” she said determinedly.
But it turns out, the priest had a response to everything she wanted to know — and he even turned some questions around on her.
“I thought, ‘My gosh, this isn’t going the way I’d planned it,’” said Melba. “So, I kept on going until he got me instead of me capturing him!”
After Melba joined the church, she helped her mother convert to Catholicism and went on to raise six children who continue to practice their faith.
Although her first husband passed away in 1960, Melba believes their discussions on the faith had a lifelong influence on her family.
“What I attribute to all of my children being good Catholics and active in the church is the fact that my husband and I would sit around and drink coffee and discuss our religion,” said Melba. “And the kids grew up hearing about it constantly.
“I think that’s the most important thing of all — for parents to know it and teach the kids to know it,” she added.
An experience of a lifetime
Melba, now remarried to her husband Don and still close with her children, has lived a life full of surprises. And meeting Mahomes is high up on the list.
So how did she come to that moment?
When Monte Mitchell and Mary Mitchell, her son and only daughter, discovered their mom had been following Mahomes’ journey with the Chiefs — and even had an entire file of newspaper clippings related to him — Monte reached out to the organization.
He thought maybe they would give her a hat signed by Mahomes or offer her tickets to a game.
“Unbeknownst to me, they were looking for a 100-year-old fan because the NFL is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year,” said Monte.
The Chiefs chose Melba and, since then, she’s stolen the hearts of both Kansas Citians and Chiefs players, who Melba feels grateful to have met during her time at Arrowhead.
“They sure have been nice, all of them, just as nice as they can be,” she said.
Her love for Mahomes grew even more after witnessing his kindness and humility in person, Melba explained.
“If he was proud and haughty, nobody would care about him as much as they do,” she said. “They like him because he’s humble and he acts like you’re just as good as he is.”
The only disappointment of her experience?
Discovering Mahomes already has a girlfriend.
But the actions of the entire team made up for that, as each of the players went out of his way to make her feel special.
“When they came down to the field, this wasn’t planned at all, but they all filed by me,” said Melba. “Every one of them shook my hands and greeted me [before the game]. They didn’t have to do that.
“They didn’t treat me like some old lady 100 years old. They treated me more like a regular human being.”
Now that the rush of excitement has calmed down, Melba remains overwhelmed with gratitude.
“When I look back on it, I can appreciate it more than I did at that moment,” she said. “Because you’re so stunned and startled and amazed.
“You’ve got too many other emotions until you get settled down and realize what a privilege it was to see these people and to see what nice people they are.”