Melba “Arlene” McKnight Cramer, 92, of Oak Park, died peacefully at home on Saturday, May 27, 2023. Born on Nov. 26, 1930 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, she was the daughter of Harry J.B. McKnight and Melba June Hogan McKnight. A coal miner’s daughter, she grew up during the Great Depression in the tiny coal-mining town of Brownfield, Pennsylvania. She and her three siblings would bottle homemade root beer in used ketchup bottles. She graduated salutatorian from South Union High School in 1948 and went on to attend the University of Pittsburgh, where she graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education, then worked as a teacher in the Pittsburgh public schools. A fellow teacher introduced her to her future husband, Walter H. Cramer Jr. They married on July 2, 1955 and shared 57 happy years together. 

The couple lived in Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Baltimore and St. Louis before moving to Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where they raised their two children. Active in many community and church organizations, she loved playing bridge, golf and tennis. She spent many happy weekends on Lake St. Clair aboard the family’s sailboat and served as a den mother to Cub Scouts, a troop leader for Camp Fire Girls, and a volunteer “picture lady” in public schools — leading grade school kids in discussions of significant art, one painting at a time.

When her children were teenagers, she earned a master’s degree in counseling at Wayne State University in Detroit, then worked in the St. Clair Shores public schools as a guidance counselor before the couple retired to Wilmington, North Carolina in 1992. She cared for her husband as he battled Parkinson’s disease for 20 years until his death in 2012.

She cultivated friendships across geographic borders and multiple decades, and those who knew her treasured her wisdom, kindness and sense of humor. She outlived her three siblings, her in-laws, and most of her numerous friends. That was challenging, but she continued to find joy in her family and beauty in the people and places around her. Reaching her 90s did not stop her from dispensing love and insightful advice to her kids and grandkids, and she often entertained her family and the staff at Brookdale Oak Park with her succinct humor.

In addition to her husband Walter, Arlene was preceded in death by her siblings, Harry McKnight Jr., Mary Bailey, and John McKnight. She is survived by her children, Michael Cramer (Harlene Ellin) and Christina Cramer Mulligan (Michael), and her grandchildren, Noah, Jack, Michara, Caitlyn, John and Mary. Her family would like to thank the nurses and aides at Brookdale Oak Park where she lived for 15 years, with special appreciation going to her longtime caregiver, Irena Pylypiv, who faithfully cared for Arlene and Walter for more than a decade. 

A private memorial service will be held in Wilmington, North Carolina at First Presbyterian Church, where she will be interred with her husband.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (

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