Editor's note: This is the third in a five-part series of articles honoring retired educators for Teacher Appreciation Week.
RUSSELLVILLE, Mo. — Growing up alongside an older sister and her identical twin sister in St. Louis County, Sue Martin recalls it was the early influence of her parents that helped establish the career path she chose in later years. Since both parents worked in education, this formed her resolve to someday teach at the elementary level.
Following her graduation from Southwest High School in St. Louis in June 1963, she spent the summer working as a playground director for the city parks and recreation department before enrolling at Central Methodist University in Fayette.
"From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher," Martin said. "I can remember playing school with my twin sister as a child."
While in college, she met and began dating Larry Martin, a fellow student, and they were soon engaged. The spring of 1967 became a busy and exciting period when she graduated with a bachelor's degree in elementary education and religion, in addition to marrying her fiancé.
"In January 1968, Larry received his officer's commission through the ROTC program at the university," Sue said. "A few weeks later, he was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and trained as an armor officer."
Later that year, she accompanied her husband when he received a transfer to the 3rd Squadron of the 7th Cavalry stationed at Ledward Barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany. While her husband was focused on performing his duties as a U.S. Army officer, Sue remained busy after being hired to teach her first year of school.
"There were some teachers from the states who were supposed to come over to teach in Germany, but did not make it," Sue recalled. "I had applied for substitute teaching positions but was hired to teach full-time for third-grade classes on the Army post in the fall of 1968."
The following year, realizing her husband's overseas duty assignment was coming to a close, she chose to teach as a substitute. In 1970, she returned to live with family in St. Louis until her husband finished out the last few months of his duty in Germany.
Soon after finishing his deployment and returning to Missouri, Sue said, her husband was hired into state government and they moved to the community of Lebanon. During this time, she gave birth to her son, Jeff. In 1973, Larry was transferred to Jefferson City, where the couple welcomed their second and final child, a daughter they named Jennifer.
"For the next several years, while Larry worked for the state and performed his duty with the Army Reserve, I stayed home to raise the children," she said. "But as they got a little older, I began to get the desire to teach again."
She was hired in early 1978 to finish out the year at the elementary school in Eugene for a teacher who had gone on maternity leave. In the fall of 1978, Martin was hired as a full-time first-grade teacher Cole R-1 Schools in nearby Russellville.
"I really believe that teaching at Eugene helped me get the full-time position at Russellville because, at the time, they didn't know me from Adam," she said with a chuckle.
Martin continued, "I had always said that I didn't want to teach the first grade because it is a lot of hard work since there is always a need with the children. I was a much better teacher after I taught a few years you just improve as time goes on."
During her tenure at Russellville, Martin recalls, there was the occasional challenging circumstance that arose; however, she praises the administration for granting her the freedom to employ new curriculum and teaching concepts in the classroom.
"The administration knew what was going on, and I always felt comfortable teaching there," she said.
One of the highlights was teaching modes of transportation to the students, which included classroom discussions on trains and locomotives. When a number of students said they had never been on a train, she and another first-grade teacher worked with school leadership to develop an exciting educational opportunity.
"A few years into my teaching, we began taking the students on a train trip every year because they really wanted to do it," she said. "We would board the Amtrak in Jefferson City and get off the train in Sedalia. We'd have lunch and play at Liberty Park, and then the school would send buses to bring us back to Russellville."
On many of these trips, more than 100 people were along for the ride since many of the parents and grandparents of the students had themselves never been on a train.
"In those situations, the students were very well-behaved," she said with a laugh.
The years seemed to pass by quickly since she was both teaching and raising a family. In May 2002, she made the decision to retire and, five days later, her first grandchild was born. In her retirement, Martin enjoys spending time with her grandchildren and reflects upon her career in teaching with great affinity.
"Since I live in the area, there are times I will run into former students of mine that have since become teachers," she said. "It's really special to know you had that influence in someone's life and career choice."
She added, "When I think about it, teaching was really a ministry for me. I felt that I was able to influence the children in a positive way. Trying to meet the needs of so many children can seem impossible, but you do the best that you can."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.