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A smile, and a wave, North Memphis community says final good-bye to the 'Watermelon Man'

John Materna spent 30 years selling watermelons at Homer and Wayne. He was shot there May 15th, and died two weeks later.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The family of beloved North Memphis staple paid their final respects June 4. 

76-year-old John Materna, who was known around the neighborhood as the “Watermelon Man,” was shot May 15 while selling fruit out of his truck, like he had done for 30 years. Materna died two weeks later.

“I just want my Pappie back, and once I get him back, I’ll be happier than I ever have been, and I’ll stop being emotional,” said Callen Fogle, Materna’s great-grandson.

Sunday evening was a very emotional moment for Materna’s family, who laid him to rest earlier the same day. That evening, they joined a large group of people in a candlelight vigil.

All five of Materna’s kids worked summers selling watermelon at the corner of Homer and Wayne. The family admits they did not know how many people their father impacted until Sunday’s vigil, but the evening put it all in perspective.

Throughout the hour, people who made a stop to Materna’s truck shared stories, tears and songs. Everything ended in a somber moment, with people offering one last wave goodbye and smile, like the Watermelon man had done for decades.

“Just something that easy as a wave, hold the door open for somebody at the store, say ‘Thank you!’ that’s how we were raised, that’s our father, that’s his legacy,” said Steve Materna, one of John Materna’s five children, “He touched a lot of lives, wearing a crazy shirt, wearing a funny hat, sitting at the corner selling watermelon.”

Materna’s family tells ABC24 they appreciate the support the community has shown, however, they still want justice for their father’s death.

Two people were involved with the May 15th shooting, including a 15-year-old boy. The teen faces several charges, including first degree murder.

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