Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Memorial

For my Grandpa Martin.

From Kanakakee's The Daily Journal:

Grandpa's passing was the lead story in the Daily Journal last Monday. They also ran this obituary, and in today's paper the following column by senior editor Phil Angelo:
A life well lived

"Shakey" Martin had been in politics so long that most people in Kankakee County never learned how he got his nickname.

Back in 1939, Martin was a star guard on the Bradley High School basketball team that became the first team from any Kankakee County school to make it to state. He made the buzzer-beater shot, too, that won the sectionals.

Martin's class went 33-2 as juniors and 32-3 as seniors. Martin would dribble the ball up, weaving and bobbing like a penguin scrambling through a jagged ice field, it was said.

So teammates Lavern Hahs, Bob Martin, Harvey Hackley and Joe Dominick took to calling him "Shakey."

The name stuck.

"Shakey," 84, died last Sunday.

He was, by turns, a great athlete, a successful businessman, a community leader, and an elected Democrat who was never afraid to march against the grain -- if he thought he was right.

Shakey was an easy person to cover because he did a couple of things rare in Kankakee County politics. He would stand up and speak his mind. Piles of Journal clips, over and over, quote him on many issues. You never had much doubt where he stood.

And he would call over at The Daily Journal and say he was stopping in. Loaded with documents, he would make his point, communicating with the reporters, and through the reporters, with the public.

Some politicians, sad to say, show up only to complain. Not Shakey. He showed up with ideas.

He represented, too, a viewpoint not often seen in politics these days. He was a conservative Democrat, devoted to making sure that no county dollar was wasted. He always did his research before making up his mind. Once he decided what was fair, he stuck by it. Two decisions, from 1976, tell you a lot about his political philosophy.

In November of that year, he cast the only county board vote, Democrat or Republican, against giving a raise to the county board chairman. One month later, he was one of only four votes to give larger raises to county employees.

"Can you honestly say, without knowing what these people make, that we are paying them fairly?" Shakey said. Yet Shakey, too, would not spend dollars he though the government didn't have. He was on the BBCHS school board at a time when the teachers struck, seeking money Shakey thought the board couldn't afford to spend.

Winning a popularity contest always came second, in his mind, to doing what was right. In 1976, he took an unsuccessful stab at running for state representative. His positions, listed at the time in a Journal story: for gun control; against legalized gambling; for capital punishment; and against the ERA. Try finding a Democrat who would vote that way today.

Funneling tax dollars needlessly was never a Shakey priority. He once praised then coroner Wes Wiseman when Wiseman offered to cut his own pay (the measure failed) and called pay for top administrators in the county health department "ridiculous."

Yet it's a measure of his courage and integrity that when Kankakee County Democrats were in the rare majority for them from 1998 to 2000, Shakey was the county board chairman. In recent years, too, he led the fight on the county board against the giant landfills for Chicago trash.

All told, Martin spent 34 years on the Kankakee County Board. He spent four years as Bourbonnais Township assessor and three terms on the Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School Board.

For more than 40 years, he was the co-owner of Skelgas. He had returned from World War II as an Army veteran, taking up the family coal delivery business.

The lifetime Bradleyan was a joiner by nature. He helped found the Bradley Lions Club in 1949 and was the club's oldest charter member at a recent celebration. At age 80, he was still chairman of the Lions golf outing. He was the greeter at Bradley St. Joe's Catholic Church and president, at times, of both the St. Joe Holy Name and the St. Joe parish board.

He was a member of the Elks, the Knights of Columbus, the Moose, the American Legion and the VFW. He golfed, played bridge and would dance with his wife at the Moose Lodge. He was always ready with a handshake and a smile, completely unafraid to take his turn when it was time for him to volunteer.

He raised money for the Red Cross, the March of Dimes and the United Way. He was a great father, and excelled at what is a tougher role in today's world, being a great stepfather, too.

It's hard to imagine anyone who lived a fuller life, or anyone who was more tightly wound into the fabric of his community than Shakey was.

Professionally, he'll be missed.

Personally, he'll be missed, too.

It is fashionable these days to attack and degrade politicians, elected officials, and public servants, and more broadly the whole endeavor of politics, as corrupt, dirty, or meaningless. But Grandpa Martin and my dad will always stand as proud examples to me of how ennobling and fulfilling public service should be. America is what it is because all across this nation innumerable men and women of good will see it as worthwhile to do their part. I do not sit by quietly when I see their efforts and their sacrifices demeaned. Grandpa was a man I admired greatly, and I'd like to think that in some respect we're continuing to carry on his tradition here. It would be hard to find a better role model. I'll miss him.

1 comment:

heartlander said...

I really appreciate your post about your Grandpa. Like all of us, he was are real person struggling to figure out what was right and trying to make the world, and especially his local world, a better place. It is inspiring to see that a life like his could be seen and appreciated. After fighting the good fight in a county that was historically overwhelmingly Republican, even the traditionally Republican Kankakee Daily Journal paid him these amazing tributes.