MELISSA – When Melissa’s first-ever Homecoming parade steps off at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 6, its Grand Marshal will be 95-years-young Helen Browning, the undisputed top Cardinal fan and beloved community ambassador.
“It’s just going to be great,” she said during a visit to her home near Cardinal Stadium on Friday, August 11. “I don’t know what to say. To think that people think that much of me to let me do this, it’s just an honor.”
Browning has called Melissa home since 1941 and did so with her husband, J.W. Browning, until his passing in 2007. J.W. was a Marine Corps veteran and on Browning’s mailbox today remains the inscription, “USMC.”
“You better believe it,” she said when asked if she’s a big Cardinals fan. “It’s just fun to be out with the people. I always liked it.”
In addition to Melissa football, Browning also enjoys attending basketball and baseball games, many of which she walks to. “If I know about things, I go,” she said. Melissa ISD staff, she added, often bring her to sporting events and take her home. “They’re real nice to me like that.”
All told, Browning has two grandchildren, five great grandchildren and seven great-great grandchildren. Her daughter Sandra attended school in McKinney and her son Buddy went to Anna. (Melissa High School graduated its first senior class in 2007.) Today, Buddy lives in Paris, Texas, and Sandra is in Kemp, Texas, with her husband and family.
Granddaughter-in-law Tonya Craft, wife of Browning’s grandson Danny, was on hand for the visit. She often stops by to help keep track of Browning’s medications. Browning said she’s grateful for all those who check in on her, bring her meals and otherwise show concern for her well-being.
Browning is the oldest and longest-tenured member of First Melissa Baptist church where she is still a greeter at all three Sunday services. For decades she taught Sunday School there.
“Now, all I do is greet,” Browning said. “That’s all I can do because I can’t hear and I can’t see very good. But I can do that.”
“Helen is a wonderful woman who loves Jesus and cares for others,” First Melissa senior pastor Trey Graham said. “She has become a human Melissa landmark, recognized around town by people who know her from church and sports events. … She has seen First Melissa grow from a few dozen people to more than one thousand attendees. Some of the adults in our church now were rocked and cared for as babies by Helen. She has been vitally involved in our church for 76 of First Melissa’s 133 years of ministry.”
Graham recalled that Browning worked for the City of Melissa in the 1970s and would learn of families in need. “She found ways to help them at Christmas time,” he said. “That effort has grown into First Melissa’s annual Christmas Angel program in which hundreds of families receive donated food and gifts each year. She still works with Betty Walthall and Carolyn Collins to lead our Christmas Angel ministry.”
Long-time Cardinal Stadium press box announcer George James of George James Realty has been a close friend of Browning’s for many years. “Helen is loved by all in Melissa,” he said. “She sits in my seats in the stadium and comes to the press box anytime she wants. When my son and daughter were playing sports, I used to take her to all of the games. I really enjoyed that, being around her on those trips. There is no bigger fan of Melissa kids than Helen. She attends everything.”
James followed Browning this year as Melissa Area Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year.
“There should be no mistake that Helen is ‘Mrs. Melissa,’” said James.
Asked if she had a message for the people of Melissa, Browning replied, “Just always have a smile on your face. Be happy.”