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Martha Smith: A one of a kind whirlwind

By Jim Busek • Oct 28, 2019 at 9:00 PM

Martha Smith was laid to rest Monday morning.

And that may be the first time the word “rest” and Martha Smith were ever used in the same sentence.

What a whirlwind that woman was. She always was doing something. It was usually work, but she had plenty of fun, too.

And it usually involved lots of people, all of whom have a Martha Smith story to share.

She was related to at least 50 of them. Martha and her husband Leo had six children, 18 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren. And, of course, there are the surviving siblings and in-laws and so on.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people who cared about Martha Smith.

Her friends and acquaintances had some things in common.

For instance, most of them had eaten food Martha had prepared.

It might have been a dinner at the The Invention restaurant which she and Leo owned for 18 years.

Or maybe it was something prepared at Martha’s Catering, a business she ran for 23 years.

And, of course, there was the food at the St. Paul Festival. For two decades, she and Leo were in charge of preparing and serving hundreds of chicken and ham dinners. You remember: people would double park and run over to the festival just to get a couple of those meals to take home.

It was a lot of work, but work was Martha’s middle name.

She and Leo lived at 281 Whittlesey Ave., the farm right there at the end of West Wind Drive. And in the days long before she was cooking chickens in her catering business and at the festival, she was helping Leo raise them on that farm. “Helping” as in working long hours in a huge barn full of chickens and delivering eggs to customers, seven days a week.

Of course there were also those six children to raise. And for several years she held a full-time job at Norwalk Furniture, too.

At the center of it all, as you may have noticed, was St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

Martha’s daughter, Patty O’Neil (you know her from Schild’s IGA), said: “Religion was a big part of mom’s life. She was always hoping God would guide her in the right direction.” Over the years, Martha attended more than 20 senior retreats, worked — there’s that word again — with the “heavenly dusters” on the church cleaning team, and, of course, gave her all to the summer festival.

In 2014, for her many years of service to the local parish, Martha Smith was inducted into the St. Paul Hall of Fame.

And, naturally, Martha’s “retirement” had its own ambitious spin. Along with all the senior retreats and church cleanings, she was a volunteer — and, for a time, president — for the Fisher-Titus auxiliary.

She liked to travel, as well. There were conventional vacation trips and winter sojourns to Florida. But there were also a couple of notorious bus tours each year, too. Martha organized them, of course. “Mom would plan them all out, arrange for the bus, figure out all the stops with all the best restaurants and come up with all kinds of games for us to play while we were getting there,” Patty said.

“She liked her gambling too, so most of our trips had a casino stop,” Patty laughed. “She’d have old friends and new ones from her Hunter’s Glen neighborhood on those trips — people like the Coes, Hipps, Nestors, Dixons, Mary Ringholz and me. There were others, too, that I can’t remember right now.

“She’d cook up one trip early in the year and sometimes another one around Christmas. The Big Trip and The Little Trip we called them.”

A couple of years ago Martha started falling and hurting herself — sometimes while trying to cook for Leo, she loved to cook — and she moved into Norwalk Memorial Home. But if you think that sounds like she slowed down, think again. She became the assistant activities director, had Leo bring her keyboard to her so she could play music for the residents and would sometimes stand in for the bingo caller. Earlier this year they named her 2019 Memorial Home Queen.

And, for good measure, when she attended the Huron County Fair this year she was named Senior Queen. You may remember a photo on the front page of this newspaper last August of the Senior Queen of the fair planting a big kiss on her husband. That was Martha, of course.

“Mom and dad made a great couple because they truly loved each other,” Patty said. “In good times or bad. If something didn’t work out, they would just move on to the next venture. ‘We’ll do it together’ was always the way they looked at things.”

Martha has, indeed, moved on to the next venture. And it’s a big one which has saddened us all.

The most hopeful part is the belief that wherever she is today things are getting organized and chicken is on the grill.

Jim Busek is a freelance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached vie email at jimbusek@hotmail.com.

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