For the past nearly fifty years, there has been a small mom and pop grocery store in our neighborhood – a clapboard place that humbly occupied about 5,000 square feet when it first opened in 1962. Above the store is a small (perhaps 1,200 sq. ft.), but cozy, apartment.
The man who built the original store – I’ll call him Dave Martin (I’ll not use his real name, simply because I believe he wouldn’t have wanted me to) – was a man of Mennonite ancestry who combined his lifelong desire to own his own small business with the desire to provide a convenient, homey, affordable place for his neighbors to purchase their groceries, fresh meat and produce.
Though not very large or impressive, Martin’s Store has thrived for decades. It was the place to shop for groceries back in the sixties and seventies. Since its original foundation was laid, it has expanded four times, and now occupies about 12,000 square feet.
In 1984, Dave Martin decided to open another facility. Despite warnings from many business ‘experts’, both local and from other areas of the country, that he was biting off much more than he could chew, and overestimating the need for such an establishment, he built another substantially larger facility about ten miles down the road from his original clapboard store.
The new facility, which has now been in business for twenty-five years, offers 95,000 square feet and twenty-three aisles of grocery shopping, and includes a banquet facility that can seat up to four hundred people.
Shoppers come from all over south-central PA to patronize Martin’s store and it has earned a sterling reputation as a business of quality and integrity. During business hours, one cannot drive by the store without witnessing a parking lot overflowing with cars. In addition to the store itself, the Martin complex now houses a florist, a drug store, a medical lab and an insurance company.
Both of Dave Martin’s stores – the small clapboard grocery that opened the year before John Kennedy was assassinated, and the large, and expanding, business that followed twenty-two years later – are closed on Sundays. While the rest of the area is bustling with tourists, or antiquers, or locals out for a Sunday drive, the two Martin parking lots sit empty and motionless, as a visible reminder of Dave Martin's belief in the sanctity of the sabbath.
I knew Dave Martin for about twenty-five years before he passed away about ten years ago. As I have mentioned here on the forum before, I serve as an elected official in our small township. He used to come into my office at the municipal building to transact business now and then. He would always come toward the end of the day, and we would chat for an hour or so, after my office hours ended, and before each of us headed home for dinner.
He was a humble man of unquestionable integrity. He and his wife lived in the small apartment above the original grocery store. After the enormous success of his new and much larger enterprise, did he expand his ‘needs’ and increase his personal living requirements? No. Until the day he died, he continued to live in that modest little apartment. As far as I know, his wife is living there still.
His lack of desire to live more lavishly, when he could certainly have afforded to do so, had absolutely nothing to do with a miserly nature, or an inordinate desire to pinch pennies. It had much more to do with a realization of the relative value of material vs. spiritual things. The fact that what you have is not an accurate measure of who you are.
One particularly severe winter, the roof blew off the Catholic school in a nearby town. The church was having difficulty coming up with the $20,000 needed to replace that roof. Dave Martin, hearing of the church’s plight, wrote a $20,000 check to the roofing company, with the agreement that no one would ever know from where the funds came. You see, Dave was a Mennonite, and there may have been a handful of people who would have criticized his meeting another religion’s needs. And yet Dave saw all needs in the community as his own, and responded quite often, and quite anonymously, to more of those needs than we may ever know. It was only after Dave passed away, that the source of the funds for the school roof was revealed, and I am certain he would still have preferred otherwise. I am also certain that many other community needs were met as a result of Dave Martin’s quietly-opened, well-worn wallet.
When the blizzard of ’96 hit our area, leaving 36” inches of snowfall in its wake, Rick and I thought it would be memorable to see how far we could walk after the snow had stopped falling. Martin’s newer market was a mere two blocks from our home at the time, and it took us well over an hour to walk to the vicinity of the store. Upon setting foot onto the vast parking lot, more than waist-deep in fallen snow, we were astounded to see lights on in the store itself a few hundred feet away. Walking through the doors, we came upon the courtesy counter and saw none other than Dave Martin and his wife manning the store. There were no other employees to be seen. We asked them how on earth they managed to travel the ten miles from their apartment to this, the larger market, and they replied, ‘We slept here last night, knowing that we probably wouldn’t have been able to make it in this morning, and we couldn’t ask our employees to venture out in such a storm.’ The 95,000 square foot store was empty but for the Martins, a couple of state policemen, two other neighbors who lived across the street, and us. But the store was open, in case anyone was in need of anything.
On one occasion, when he was getting up in years, Dave Martin said to me in a moment of deep reflection, ‘I won’t be around forever, and I’ve asked my sons to honor my wishes not to do business at our markets on Sunday. I hope and pray that they will keep that promise after I am gone.’ There was a perceptible sadness in his voice, and an almost desperate longing for this particular wish to be honored.
Dave left us about ten years ago and his sons have thus far been true to their promise.
There are countless other examples I could cite of Dave Martin’s goodness. But I’ll simply end with this abbreviated list. My purpose in sharing at least a small part of Dave’s story with you is to express the belief that so often the people who most affect our lives, and who leave an indelible mark on our own personal view of the world, are those who do not seek to do so. They simply live their lives in quiet humility, seeking to put the needs of others above their own, and simply hoping, in some small way, to leave the world a better place than it was when they arrived.
If we, as a nation, once again begin to envision such character-laden people as role models ... even heroes ... and begin to question the genuine value of those among us who place wealth, fame, power and notoriety highest on their list of priorities, we will have placed ourselves back onto a pathway that leads to genuine and lasting prosperity.
At this most holy time of year, no matter our faith, or our walk in life, I hope we (myself certainly included) will all take the time to look around us for our own Dave Martins. Ask ourselves what we can do to be more like them. And tell them how much we appreciate their example. Choosing role models who place humility before notoriety, and others before self, will surely go far in helping us to become a better people, striving to serve as a reflection of His goodness and grace.