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A eulogy for a friend

Del Gingrich recalls the life of Elmira's Ab Martin, who passed away at 83


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From former banking colleagues to the many teammates and lifelong friends, they filled the pews at the Elmira Mennonite Church August 1 to remember the life of Ab Martin, who passed away July 27 after a brief illness at the age of 83.

“Everybody had an Ab story to tell,” said Del Gingrich, the man who delivered the eulogy. He had many to share himself, having known Abner Martin since the age of 5.

“He was a lifelong resident of Elmira. Our families lived a block apart and we got to know each other – that was more than 75 years ago, now. We knew each other so well.”

A local historian and author, Gingrich is perhaps singularly versed in the accomplishments that made Martin a well-loved part of the community. From his volunteer work and excelling at baseball and hockey to the 43 years he spent at Canada Trust, including 27 years at the manager of the Elmira branch, Martin “knew so many people in town.”

That was evident in the full house for last week’s service, an indication of how many lives Martin touched over the years, from his early involvement in sports to his years at the bank and his outreach efforts as something of a liaison with the Old Order Mennonite community, said Gingrich, who noted Martin having grown up in a very poor Mennonite family shaped his character and drove his accomplishments.

“That driving force within Ab was displayed mainly by his excellence as an athlete from an early age. At high school he was an outstanding competitor in track and field. When he took up organized minor hockey his father gave him five cents if he scored a goal and 10 cents if he had an assist. Eventually Ab led five Elmira minor hockey teams to Ontario championships,” said Gingrich in the eulogy he delivered.

“The fact is that Ab’s competitive spirit took him beyond the hockey rink and the ball diamond. And it seemed that the confidence he gained from sports carried over to his confidence as a bank manager. When you entered Ab’s bank as a customer, the first staff member who usually greeted you was the manager, Ab’s personable manner and his ability to speak Pennsylvania German helped make Elmira branch one of the most successful ones in the Region of Waterloo.”

Martin’s athleticism not only led him to championships in a variety of sports and, eventually, a berth on Kitchener’s junior A hockey team – then the Canucks, now the Rangers – but to many longstanding friendships, said Gingrich. Some of those former teammates were at last week’s service.

“It was a full house with many of Ab’s former colleagues and hockey teammates,” he said. “It was heartening to see them.”

Of those longstanding friendships, a group of eight had met for decades for a monthly breakfast, a testament to their Woolwich roots and experiences.

“In November of 2018, our breakfast group of eight changed to seven with the death of our dear friend Carl Bushert. At our next breakfast, only six will attend. Two chairs will remain empty. It will be hard to comprehend,” said Gingrich in his address.

Speaking about Martin’s passing, Gingrich is still coming to terms with it.

“The suddenness of it was difficult for everyone. It makes it harder to cope with – I’m still doing that.”

Martin is survived by his wife Ann and his children, Debbie Martin of Mississauga, Dawna Martin of Elmira, Jeff and Debbie Martin of Elmira, and Jon and Chris Martin of Waterloo, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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