Newlin Martin at IGA

Newlin Martin (pictured) and his father, Clyde, owned Martin’s IGA for nearly 80 years before announcing the sale of the store to Kirby Foods in Champaign. The Martin family will leave a legacy of giving back to the community.

By Herb Meeker

News Report Staff

For the Effingham community, Clyde and Newlin Martin were known as more than just successful grocers.

Over the years, they gave back to the community in many ways through donations, cookout fundraisers or jumpstarting organizational efforts.

Hank Stephens, an attorney who worked on different community projects, remembers the Martins helped get the ball rolling on many efforts, including the Effingham YMCA.

“There were some constants in Effingham. I remember Clyde always said yes. And I never remember Newlin saying no to me. I went to them because they got the ball rolling with donations,” Stephens recalled. “Nobody really knows how much they did for the community over time.”

Chuck Stevens, a former mayor of Effingham and former owner of Stevens Hardware, summed the up charitable tradition of Clyde Martin, who was a good friend of Cliff Stevens, Chuck’s late father. Cliff and Clyde worked together on different community projects through the years. Clyde died in 1999.

“The only time he turned anyone down was when they offered him a drink,” Stevens said tongue in cheek in reference to the Martin family’s Baptist upbringing. “Clyde was a real people person. He recognized people in need and did all he could to help them.”

Pastor Roger Marshall, of First Baptist Church, has been a minister to the Martins through the years and knows how generous they have been to individuals or the entire community.

“They have done it quietly and without fanfare. They have been generous hundreds of times. It is part of their personal conviction to make the community a better place,” Marshall said.

Newlin said his father emphasized the spirit of giving back, especially when you had a successful business.

“The point Dad always made to me was if you wanted help from the community you had to give back to it. He said that to me a hundred times,” Newlin explained.

Clyde Martin would be instrumental in another way with helping Effingham well into the future. He was involved in city government as both a councilman and mayor. Chuck Stevens said Clyde emphasized city planning and putting together a comprehensive plan that put the city on the road to progress. He applied his business expertise to running city government, basically, that you didn’t get anywhere unless you took some risks.

“When Clyde was mayor, he got the right people in place and that was when Effingham started booming,” said Stevens, who now lives with his wife, Nancy, in Fountain Hill, Arizona, not far from Scottsdale.

Nancy Stevens recalled that Clyde helped with organizing the senior center and other programs. She remembers him taking down notes and carrying them in his pockets. He liked to have facts within easy reach long before mobile devices or smartphones were invented.

Of course, Clyde had some funny habits. Sometimes, he would take cat naps under his desk in the old City Hall on South Banker Street. Cliff Stevens had some fun ribbing his mayor friend about it.

“Dad said Clyde was getting old and couldn’t keep up,” Chuck recalled with a laugh.

Clyde Martin used to always park far away from the main entrance of the grocery as possible. He would tell his employees that he did that in respect to his customers, who paid the bills.

Clyde also had a streak of showmanship when he ran Martin’s IGA. Donnie Bushue, who worked for 48 years at Martin’s, remembers how Clyde fell in love with some animated animals that oinked, moo’ed, crowed or made other barnyard sounds as a way to entertain children in the grocery.

“He scattered those animals throughout the store and that was unique at the time. It entertained the kids when their parents brought them to shop on Saturday mornings. So it was a big draw for families,” Bushue said.

The same idea of entertainment is tied to the toy train that makes its rounds near the ceiling in the extra dining room of the Iron Horse Restaurant.

“To this day, kids come into the Iron Horse so they can see the train running,” Bushue said.

Newlin would carry on the tradition of innovation and love for the customers and community. Bushue can’t count the number of cookouts on the Martin’s lot that helped different charities and organizations.

The Austin Mansion, the former College of Photography at the corner of Wabash Avenue and South Fourth Street, is still standing because Newlin ruled out demolishing the flea-infested former apartment house he purchased more than 25 years ago. Jim Zumbahlen, of Effingham High School, said the house was structurally sound and it could be saved through efforts involving building trades students.

“I didn’t do it. It was Jim who convinced me. Donna and I opened it as a bed and breakfast in 1996. It was a great event. We had cookouts there to buy tools for Unit 40,” Newlin recalled.

As a result, local historic landmark was saved because Newlin considered community over profit.

Ken Lansing, who started worked for Martin’s in 1985, believes a great legacy of the Martin family has been the generosity to their employees.

“There are a number of people in that building who have never worked for anyone else but the Martin family. There have been the Christmas party and the fall hayride for employees. Martin’s had profit sharing before I even came there. They have considered everyone as family,” Lansing said.

“Clyde and Martin never asked you to do something they wouldn’t do themselves,” Bushue said.

Many other employees and customers have offered thanks to Newlin through cards or hand-written letters in recent days as a way of saying thanks for the store’s community support and respect to the employees. Many employees considered him and also his father as a mentor.

“Newlin gave me not only a job, but a livelihood. And he supported me on making decisions through the years. He’s not only been an employer, but a great true friend,” Bushue said.

In many ways, Effingham can say the same to the Martins.