LaClair A. Melhouse was born October 23, 1916, in Balfour, North Dakota, to John and Regina (Peterson) Melhouse. He attended elementary and secondary school in Kief, North Dakota. Shortly after his graduation in 1934, his father died and his mother sold the family farm. Melhouse worked four years as a farmhand before enrolling at Minot State College in 1938, where he worked as a janitor in a nearby hospital while taking education classes. He enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard in 1939 and earned his secondary teaching certificate the following year. He taught six months in rural Anamoose, North Dakota, before beginning active duty with the military.
Melhouse married Edith Bostrom on December 10, 1942, while he was on a 10-day military leave. During World War II, he served with the 164th Infantry in campaigns in New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the southern Philippines and Luzon. Melhouse received numerous decorations for his service, including the Legion of Merit with an Oak Leaf cluster, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. When he returned to North Dakota he was placed on reserve duty. From 1946 to 1950 he farmed and raised Hereford cattle near Verendrye, North Dakota, before he was recalled to active duty for the Korean War.
In 1952, Melhouse returned to Minot, where he farmed with his brother and earned his B.S. in Mathematics and Industrial Arts from Minot State College. He then taught high school math in Maxbass, North Dakota, and in Minot until 1961, all while maintaining enrollment in the North Dakota National Guard. In 1960, he was engaged on a brief tour of the Pentagon to assist in preparation of equipment guides for the Guard and Reserve. He was again released from active military duty in August 1962.
In November 1962, Melhouse was appointed by Governor William Guy as Adjutant General of the State of North Dakota. He concurrently served as State Director of Selective Service, effectively returning him to active duty with the U.S. Army. In 1966, the North Dakota Legislature assigned the state civil defense agency to the Adjutant General. Melhouse retired as Adjutant General in October 1975. One year later he retired as Director of Selective Service. Melhouse held several designations during his military career, the highest rank being Major General, which he was federally recognized with on November 11, 1969.
He and his wife remained in Bismarck upon his retirement. Melhouse engaged in numerous volunteer positions including President of the Kiwanis Club, and roles in the Salvation Army, the state Easter Seal Campaign, Boy Scouts of America, the YMCA and several veterans organizations, among others.
LaClair and Edith Melhouse had two children, Jim and Dianne. LaClair A. Melhouse died February 12, 2004, in Bismarck. His ashes are interred at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery in Mandan.
The LaClair A. Melhouse Papers are composed almost entirely of material from his military career. Because he served in roles as North Dakota Adjutant General, State Director of Selective Service and overseer of state civil defense from 1962 to 1976, the bulk of material dates from this time span. A wide range of military information is contained in the files. Among topics of North Dakota interest are files relating to the "Zip to Zap" incident of 1969, the Anti-Ballistic Missile protest of 1970, the fuel shortage of 1973, Vietnam military recruitment, and natural disasters and disaster relief.
More than 600 photographs were separated and placed in the Photograph File Cabinets.