‘Jesse Martin was a good man’
‘Jesse Martin always wears a tan work shirt,’ the late Bruce Walker wrote in a 1974 column, ‘Commissioners exemplify ‘of the people’ government.’
The other two commissioners, Harry Boone and Joseph (Fritz) Gettelfinger, shared the ‘everyman’ quality of their work-shirt-clad colleague. Walker described them as men without pretensions whose main order of business was the county’s roads.
‘The county council and commissioners ‘ they got along pretty good, better than they do now, according to the paper,’ said Jesse Mathes, who was named for Martin, his uncle. Mathes was auditor.
But getting along with Martin wasn’t difficult in any arena. In fact, ‘He was just like a horse. You couldn’t hook him wrong,’ Mathes said.
Outside of government, Martin worked in construction and for the county highway department. He parked an old tractor in a vacant chicken house in his backyard and used it to tend a modest farm and to haul in firewood he chopped on one of his scattered parcels of land.
He used phrases like the all-purpose ‘that there ‘n’ all,’ which ‘described life in general, and he would say them as one word,’ the Rev. Mark Horton recalled. Also popular were his ‘What in the cat hairs?’ when something odd happened or ‘hotter than a country boy’s pistol,’ which described something really hot.
In his leisure time, Martin enjoyed driving the county’s back roads in his Dodge truck, or hunting, or just sitting in a chair under a big maple tree with a toothpick in his mouth and, at his feet, an endless supply of branches on which to whittle.
He liked to talk about boxing and had a lot of praise for Jack Dempsey. In his youth, Martin had developed a proficiency in the sport while sparring with one of his brothers, a talented pugilist in his own right. Talk about the subject for any time at all, and Martin would put his dukes up and take a few swings at the air.
Hunting was another popular subject for Martin.
During the occasional evening call it was not uncommon to overhear stories about Charlie Lynch’s ‘real dog,’ which had made an impression on Martin’s coon hunting forays.
Sometimes he would talk about the 260-pound buck mounted over the phone. After a missed shot, the patient buck stood still while Martin turned back to his truck and used the hood to steady his shotgun. He was well into his 70s when he finally got the big one.
Every night, as long as his health allowed, he’d put on his reading glasses and sit down in front of his Bible. When he finished it (which he had done quite a few times), he would turn it over and start again.
In short, the commissioner who always wore a tan work shirt was exactly who he appeared to be: a simple man. He didn’t leave a lot of elaborate tales behind, and he had no children of his own. But he did have a legacy of kindness that is widely known, so, in that sense, he wasn’t common, simple or ordinary at all.
Horton gave Martin’s eulogy in April 1999.
He said some funerals are difficult because ‘You really don’t speak about the person. You just speak to the family.’
Martin’s was different, Horton said. ‘His life already left the testimony.’
During the eulogy, Horton brought to light the fact that Martin had purchased and donated the land on which Harrison Avenue Christian Church parsonage was built.
Each time Horton visited Martin, he would ask, ‘How are you doing?’ And the response was almost always, ‘Well, I can’t complain,’ though Martin had plenty he could have complained about in his later years when his health began to fail. He lived to be 86.
Martin married Eileen in 1975 after each had outlived their spouses. In more than 20 years, he never said an unkind word to Eileen. He acknowledged her children as his own, and they and their children felt the same way about him.
‘When I think of the kind of man I would like to be when I’m 70, 80 years of age, Jesse comes to mind: He was humble, he was kind,’ Horton said.
Ask anyone for an anecdote about Jesse Martin, and they might not have one, but they will say, ‘Jesse Martin was a good man.’