Louise-isms For Life
Stacks of old photographs and newspaper clippings, typed documents and handwritten notes are scattered across Louise Martin’s living room. They occupy the surface of every table, sofa and chair. On one end of her coffee table sits a box full of diaries. At 75, she is writing her memoirs.
Martin uses “sayings,” or “Louise-isms” as those who know her call them, to relate her stories with real-world situations and people. She will reference her father’s use of particular phrases shortly before they enter the conversation. Others are prefaced with, “Now, I say…” These turns of phrase are her vernacular, and part of her charm. She does love a good “visit.”
“If I fail to share this history and life stories, once I pass, how life was will be lost,” Martin says, choking up a little. “So I found my mother’s diaries. I found what she wrote the day I was born.”
Since that day, Martin has added to her story. She spent much of her childhood in mid-Missouri, attended Central Methodist University and the University of Missouri, taught at Hickman High School and worked for Michigan Bell and Sprint for more than 26 years and in banking another 17 before retiring five years ago.
“A turtle does not move unless he sticks out his neck.”
“While I was in Detroit, I lived through the riots. I stepped over National Guard troops in the 60s, who were guarding the telephone equipment, to get to my desk,” she says. “Also I lived through a divorce. What it taught me was, when it gets tough you have to get tough with it and survive.”
“I say, ‘we can wear out or rust out.’ We can stay at home and feel sorry for ourselves or we can get up and we can get dressed and get out,” Martin says matter-of-factly.
Martin is up and out almost every day. Five days a week you can find her at the YMCA where she concentrates on her wellness for at least an hour, if not an hour and a half. One of those days, she works with a personal trainer.
Activity and interaction are equal parts in her regimen. “As we age,” she says, “it’s important that we read, we maintain social skills and have a half-full cup not a half-empty.”
When you meet Louise Martin, one of the things you notice about her is her “bling.” Bracelets wrap from her wrists to her mid-forearm, rings sit on almost every finger and more than one necklace is draped around her neck. On a couple of these bangles are some special charms.
“I am an only child, however, children have always been very important in my life,” says Martin, who never had any children of her own. In the last few years, however, she has acquired some special “peeps,” whom the charms represent. There are 10 of them, and they call her Miss L.
Martin relates to people of all ages; it’s something she feels is important. During her time with her peeps, they unplug from cell phones and computers. They read to her, and she offers an ear for anything they wish to discuss while she shares life lessons with them.
“I just talk to them and say, ‘This is real-world, and we need to realize that there’s somebody smarter, somebody better looking, somebody with more money, but we can be kind,’” Martin says. She learned many of her philosophies from her father around the dining room table at night, where he would talk about life and what to expect.
Changes and the opportunities they bring are one of those lessons she knows well.
Her first peep, Sam, has moved away since she met and got to know his family through her church. When they moved, she gave Sam some of her best advice: A turtle does not move unless he sticks out his neck. His family’s move would provide him opportunities, and options for later. They still keep in touch — every day. They Skype and communicate through Facebook, in addition to phoning and texting.
“I’m B.C. That’s ‘before computers,’ but I’m trainable. Just give me a minute,” Martin says. “Somebody said to me, ‘You mean at 75 you do that [Facebook]?’ I said, ‘If you have people you care about, you figure out how to do it. Otherwise, you lose those people.’ ”
In addition to Sam, she works with seven grandchildren of a close friend and added two more recently to her fold. New to the Ashland community, Jason Reynolds met Martin through the Kiwanis Club. Martin introduced Reynolds to the business community through her connections and got to know his daughters, with whom she shared her work with her peeps.
“My youngest, who is 8, just absolutely loved that.” Reynolds says. “She was enthralled with [Louise’s] stories and an outgoing and energetic older adult just giving her undivided attention to her. It was pretty special.” That and Louise’s bling.
“I’m not looking for any halo, but if we can help the next generation, to give them a cutting edge,” Martin says, trailing off. “Life is not easy out here. If in some way I can share with children, young people, why make somebody struggle if they don’t have to? I think that’s important.”
“We feel better if we hold hands before we jump.”
In the Ashland community, Martin is a member of Golden K Kiwanis, Ashland Optimist Club, the Ashland United Methodist Church and Ashland Chamber of Commerce in her “retirement.” She even served a stint on the Ashland City Council and the Planning and Zoning board.
“The mindset of most residents in Ashland and southern Boone County is if we see a need, we get a group together and make it happen,” Martin says. One such program resulted from this drive when the Southern Boone Buddy Pack Program, which sends food home with students in need on weekends, during holidays and on summer break, shifted from receiving support from the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri to being 100 percent community-funded through local donations.
Martin became involved with the Buddy Pack program in 2014 when she found herself with a ham she received for speaking at the Boone County Fair Ham Breakfast. Instead of keeping it, she wanted to pay it forward. So, she and her long-time friend Barrett Glascock devised a plan to raffle it off with the proceeds going to the Buddy Pack program. That’s when Nancy Nickolaus, the program director, first met Martin.
“I very quickly came to realize that not only was she a part of the community, the fabric of the community, but she also was someone who knew what community meant. … she really is a master networker,” Nickolaus says.
That ham raised $400, but Martin hasn’t stopped there. For her 75th birthday party last February, she asked her friends — about 100 came, ages 6 to 90 — to make donations to the Buddy Pack program in lieu of presents for her, which raised more than $3,000.
“When Louise says, ‘I have a project that might interest you,’ she comes with such authority and trust that people are willing to listen,” Nickolaus says. “One of the things she’s done is introduce me into circles that I may otherwise not have had access to, but the other thing is she puts her money where her mouth is.”
“That’s something that makes her really unique,” she adds. “There are a lot of people that do fantastic things in their community, but she really sees us as family.”
“To me, establishing relationships is what life’s about. I call it ‘putting the dots together,’ ” Martin says as she brings her index fingers together. “I have been fortunate through work and just stepping up to have met a lot of interesting people … and all of these people have affected my life in some fashion.”