There’ll be no shortage of stories – and plenty of people to share them – at the memorial service Saturday to mark the life of Don Martin.
Martin, who died April 2 at the age of 79, played an instrumental role in the development of Elmira, and had a hand in numerous business and philanthropic projects over the course of his life. Many of those whose lives he touched will pass through Lions Hall on Saturday to pay their respects and reflect on his contributions.
From Martin Feed Mills Ltd., the family business that he took over while in his twenties and grew to an international concern, he directly launched a wide variety of businesses, including those that developed residential and industrial land in Elmira. He was also involved in dozens of other enterprises.
Martin was also equally untiring when it came to his volunteer activities, most notably as a member of the Lions Club, overseeing the creation of trails, parks and sports fields.
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His long list of accomplishments – of which Martin was modest through his entire life – came from a drive to give it his all, no matter what he chose to do, said his son Chuck, who along with brothers Dennis and Tim will be speaking at the service.
“He put a lot of energy into everything he did.”
Whatever he threw himself into – a new business, the school board or the Lions Club – he did it with full commitment.
“When he joined the Lions Club … he took that on with great vigour.”
That was certainly noticeable to Art Woods, himself a longtime Lion who worked with Martin for many years.
“He contributed immensely to the club all through the years. He had a unique way about him that will be sorely missed,” said Woods, who’ll speak about those years at Saturday’s memorial. “Everything the club did, he was always part of that.”
Until his death, Martin was the longest-serving member of the club, having joined in 1961 the Elmira group that formed in 1955.
From those earliest days, he committed himself to going above and beyond, Woods added.
It was always that way with his father, Chuck Martin explained.
At the age of 12, he was fascinated with radios so he built his own crystal radio set, despite being the child of a conservative Mennonite family. He was ultimately forced to destroy the radio. Two years later, however, he built his own car. Merrily driving down the road to St. Jacobs, he was pulled over by the police, but was eventually issued a special permit to allow him to drive it and other cars owned by his father.
That project was followed by a hand-built cedar-strip speed boat named the Silver Streak, which he took up to the Shand Dam near Fergus, where he got into waterskiing.
His antics saw him refused entry into his family’s church. Given the choice to renounce his ways or go his own way, he chose the latter.
The ingenuity he showed at an early age carried over into the business world. If the company needed something, he’d build or have it built. The desire to see things developed led to more than a few spinoff businesses, or to new ventures that he helped get going, even if it was only as “a good customer or a good supplier,” said Chuck Martin.
“He liked to build things. He’d say ‘let’s do it,’ or find somebody to do it with.
Not deterred by hurdles and never meeting a challenge he wouldn’t take on, Martin was always eager to “push the envelope,” said his son.
In that vein, Woods noted, Martin was not one to give up.
“He could do anything. It was a phenomenal talent that he had.”
For Chuck Martin, that perseverance came with a focused vision.
“He saw an opportunity in everything. I would say he was a chronic entrepreneur.”
Some of the energy for that came from his own drive, but also from a pay-it-forward attitude.
Chuck Martin said his father always attributed his success to the help and input of others. As he got into a position to help others, he always made it a priority to do just that, both in business and as a philanthropist and volunteer.
As with work, he also put equal energy into his leisure time, whether it was flying his plane across the north to Alaska, racing a dogsled across some of the most grueling stretches of Arctic ice and snow or carving out a trailway in Elmira.
Throughout his life, he liked to build things with his own hands. Each of his grandchildren, for example, got a handcrafted item – a desk, perhaps – along with a poem.
“That’s the energy he put into everything,” said Chuck Martin.
Although he retired some years ago from the day-to-day operations of the businesses now run by his sons, Martin’s can-do attitude, his energy and his philosophies continue to this day.
“He always believed … when you see an idea, you just do it.”
Taking a cue from their father, his sons have continued to find new ventures.
In Don Martin’s father’s time, business was as far away as a horse could travel in a day. Then it was as far as a truck could travel. Then came expansion into other parts of the province, country and the world.
“Today, we say it’s at the point where it’s as far as a jet can travel.”
The memorial service for Don Martin gets underway at 10:30 a.m. at Lions Hall in Elmira. It will be followed by an open house format, with photos and mementoes of his life on display.