John R. Martin

March 19, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • This 2005 photograph is the most recent professional photo of John and Jeanne Martin. John is sporting a tie with apples on it, made by his cousin Melissa (Martin) Burger of Roanoke, Va., in honor of the familys Smithsburg apple orchard, Ivy Hill Farm. John was buried wearing the tie and holding an Ivy Hill Farm hat.
Submitted photo

SMITHSBURG — The sign outside Ivy Hill Farm said it all: "In God's Hands."

The words were a tribute to John Richard Martin, the fifth generation of his family to run the Smithsburg apple orchard, who had recently passed away.

"We have suffered a great loss, and we will struggle to fill the void in our lives," wrote daughter Karen Lyon in an e-mail.

John's wife of 56 years, Jeanne, was surprised but grateful that more than 700 people came to the two days of viewing to honor her husband. Many who worked for him as young boys, now grown men, turned out to bid him farewell.

"They say he taught them how to work," Jeanne said.

"He actually helped raise a community," said Karen, whose husband, Charlie, was one of those young employees. They have been a military family for 30 years and now live in Alexandria, Va., while Charlie is in Afghanistan on his second tour of duty.

"Maybe his riches are in memories," said son, John Steven "Steve" Martin, who by tradition was given the name John Martin and referred to by his middle name, as were Steve's sons, John Timothy and John Justin.

Even though John had been fighting a staph infection for more than six years and was wheelchair-bound for most of that time, he continued to help Jeanne and Steve run the orchard.

The infection began after John had surgery to repair a broken femur bone, an injury he suffered while preparing for Smithsburg's annual Steam and Craft Show.

"John kept us in the right direction, did the books and directed the spraying," Jeanne said.

Steve, who also works for the Smithsburg Post Office, said he worked with his father on the farm for almost 40 years and said he had a "world of knowledge."

Steve and his wife, Karen, live in the 100-year-old house that John's grandfather built on the farm, while John and Jeanne live in what was referred to as the "tenant house."

Over the years, Steve got used to his father's no-nonsense style.

"It wasn't 'How was your day?' It's 'We need to do this,'" Steve said.

"After he died, I went out and worked, and there was no one to tell what I did. He was just a security blanket," Steve said.

"He helped you prioritize," Karen said.

Jeanne admits she had no idea what she was getting into when she married a farmer. She grew up in Cascade and went to Smithsburg schools, where she met John in high school.

They started dating after high school graduation in 1952 and married about two years later. The couple had a son and a daughter, both of whom helped with the farm while growing up, and have four grandchildren.

"He always said farms are good for raising families, but making a living is tough," Karen said.

Jeanne said there is much uncertainty in the agricultural business, but it brought a lot of people into their lives, both as employees and customers.

"He made life fun, even though it was work," Steve said.

'Visionary' ideas

After high school, John attended then-Hagerstown Junior College, now Hagerstown Community College, for a year, then continued his education on the farm and through reading relevant publications. He stayed well educated in his field and wasn't afraid to try new ideas.

"He was a visionary. Dad thought outside the box. It got him in trouble sometimes," Steve said.

The family has always grown apples, but John tried his hand at dairy farming, then raising hogs.

When Karen was about 7, her father set her up at the end of the lane with a folding table, chair, umbrella and boxes of strawberries to sell. That was the start of roadside marketing and retail sales at Ivy Hill Farm, which continue today with a wide assortment of fruit products, produce and plants, among other items.

John also was progressive in his marketing efforts, establishing a fall festival at the farm long before they were common and had a website developed in 2002. He was also active with the state pork producers, an apple marketing committee and other farm and marketing bureaus.

Steve said he often disagreed with his father's decisions, then later on realized John was right.

John decided he wanted to make apple cider, so he and Steve traveled to Michigan to buy a cider press. There was no instruction manual and they took photographs of the press before disassembling it for the trip back to Maryland.

Steve said they had to wait to have the photographs developed to reassemble it.

"He was quite proud of the cider," which they started producing in 1975, Jeanne said.

The family said John was the first person to try ultraviolet light for pasteurizing cider in Maryland. He struggled to get Maryland state inspectors to recognize that method as an acceptable alternative to traditional pasteurization.

"The report came back that John was more dangerous than the cider," Jeanne said.

"He was delighted with that," Karen said.

John also tackled a fly problem, a result of raising hogs, by introducing a specific kind of wasp that ate the fly larvae, a move Jeanne is convinced reduced the fly population.

A rich man

Neighbor Larry Guidice, who bought property on Windy Haven Road in Ringgold in 1997, said he finally found a place to call home, thanks in part to John.

"I knew we were going to be friends. I had that big feeling. It was a friendship from the beginning," Larry said.

Larry and John became close friends and the day before John died, he called Larry from his hospital bed and asked him to take care of Jeanne.

Steve said the insurance agent would block out the entire afternoon when he paid his annual visit to John, knowing the meeting would extend far beyond business discussions.

John was a lifelong member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Smithsburg, was a former church council president and taught Sunday school for years. He was a 4-H leader for 25 years.

"He was a true Christian. I think preachers enjoyed coming here, but John could give them the dickens," Jeanne said.

She said John couldn't understand how people couldn't believe in God, especially seeing evidence of his hand as a plant grows from a seed.

John counted as his friends people from all walks of life, and was always concerned about the well-being of others.

"They might disagree with him . . .," Steve said.

"But they'd come back for more," Karen said.

"Though many would consider Dad rough around the edges, we consider him a diamond in the rough with Mom polishing him for 56 years," Karen wrote in an e-mail.

Steve said his father worried about his legacy, hoping that despite his flaws, people would think well of him.

"This is a small town. The only sad part is he didn't know he died the richest man I've ever known," Larry said.


Editor's note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about John R. Martin, who died March 9, 2011, at the age of 76. His obituary was published in the March 10, 2011 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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