Willard Martin, 87, died peacefully, with his wife by his side, at Landis Homes Retirement Community on May 28, 2021. The cause of death was pneumonia due to complications of Lewy body dementia. Willard was born into the Old Order Mennonite home of David and Adina Martin in Hawkesville, Ontario. As was customary for a boy in that culture, he quit school at age 14 and worked on his parents' and other farms. At age 17 he left the Old Order church and joined a mainstream Mennonite church. In his early 20s he drove a semi for several years. Encouraged by friends, he enrolled at Goshen College, where he earned a B.A. in history and met his future wife, Mary Ellen Kauffman of Lancaster.
Following college, Willard taught in a junior high school for three years. He then earned an M.A. in German at Penn State. After a year of teaching at Shippensburg University, he returned to Penn State to work on a Ph.D., which he finished while working full-time in an administrative position and doing some teaching. During these 14 years on the main campus he developed a course in Pennsylvania German culture and was active in the Pennsylvania German Society. With a grant to do research on the dialect, he and a colleague interviewed dialect speakers in Lancaster Co. and Ontario. The resulting paper, "Language Loyalty among the Pennsylvania Germans," was presented in a symposium at the University of Kansas and published in Germanica Americana 1976. Continuing to work for Penn State for five more years, Willard served as the director of academic affairs at the branch campus in McKeesport.
Then for a number of years Willard was employed at Goshen College as academic dean and professor of German. Interspersed in those years were two stints of directing study-abroad programs in Germany: a semester with the Goshen College program in communist East Germany and two years with BCA in Marburg. Among his son Derek's favorite memories of Marburg is that his dad was always willling to chauffeur him and his friends and obviously enjoyed listening to their German chatter and teenage colloquialisms.
In 1995 Willard returned to Germany for five years to serve as the CEO and academic dean of a small University of Maryland campus in Schwäbisch Gmünd.
Upon his official retirement in 2000, Willard and Mary Ellen settled in State College. The German Department at Penn State asked Willard to teach again, and he taught for 14 more years, elementary German as well as upper-level literature courses. Eventually he confined his teaching to a course on the plain Anabaptists. He was clearly well-liked by his students, as evidenced, for example, by the honor of several student marshals having him escort them at their commencement ceremonies.
Willard was known for his storytelling and was invited to speak to various groups about the plain people. In light of his early background his accomplishments were remarkable. In 2014 Willard and Mary Ellen moved to Landis Homes, but after a total of 28 years in State College it remained "home."
Willard played ice hockey and baseball in his youth. Later he was known as a wicked racquetball player, and he enjoyed coaching his son Stefan's Little League team. His favorite sports on TV were ice hockey and Penn State football. At Landis Homes he played water volleyball; he also volunteered there.
Other interests were reading, travel, and activities with his beloved sons and grandchildren. The Martin family‘s vacations often took them to Chesley Lake in Ontario. Over the years Willard and Mary Ellen made several trips to Europe; they traveled extensively there while living in Germany. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, Willard realized his wish to see more of North America.
In State College, Willard was involved in leadership at University Mennonite Church. Currently he was a member of Akron Mennonite Church. He was a kind and gentle man, a wonderful husband and father. Landis Homes staff who took care of him in his last four months called him dear and sweet.
Survivors are his wife; two sons, Stefan (Heidi) of Milwaukee and Derek (Henry Lucero) of Los Angeles; two sisters and three brothers-in-law in Ontario; brother-in-law, Richard Kauffman in Goshen, Ind.; three grandchildren (Lily, Garrett, and Kyle). Preceding him in death were five siblings and a stillborn grandson.
Memorial contributions may be made to MCC or the Landis Homes Caring Fund. A memorial service will be held on August 28, with details to be announced later. To leave the family an online condolence, please visit: BachmanSnyder.com717-687-7644
A living tribute »