‘Tis the season to be thankful. Thankful for your family. Thankful for your friends. Thankful for your loved ones.
But also it’s a time to be thankful for your community. Thankful for your country. Thankful for the opportunity to be here, and for the blessings in your life.
Thankful for the time that you have, here on Earth. Because – as our community has been reminded over the past week – tomorrow is never promised.
The Marion community lost a number of loved ones over the last week, and Marion Township Supervisor Martin Blackledge was one of those moving on from this world. Martin passed away on Saturday, at the age of 85.
I was fortunate enough to speak with Martin a couple of years back, and the thing that stuck with me was how blessed he felt. About everything.
According to Martin, he hit the lotto the day he was born. He was born into a great family, in the right time, at the right place. Right here in Marion.
Here’s his story, as shared with us in March of 2020.
Marion Press: Where were you born and raised?
Martin: I was born and raised down on Stockwell and Kirby, down at the corner. That was my Grandpa Compton’s property – and that also where that cabin comes from that’s down at the historical society. That was my grandmother’s cabin. My parents moved it up here on 20 Mile Road, where I was raised. After I bought the place, the historical society came to me and wanted to know if I’d sell ‘em that cabin – I said, I’d give it to you, if you’d get it out of here.
MP: Did you have a big family?
Martin: There was seven of us. Mike and Alice were my parents. She was the township treasurer when I was in high school. My Grandfather Compton was the supervisor in Redding Township.
My dad was township treasurer in Redding Township, and then later my mother was township treasurer in Marion Township. That was in the ‘50s.
MP: Where did you go to school? What kept the family busy?
Martin: I went to Marion, that was the only school I went to until I went to Michigan State in ’56. Ag class and shop class [kept me busy]. We had a pretty good ag teacher and shop teacher. Wally Dietz was our shop teacher, and Timkovich was our ag teacher.
Dad was a part-time farmer. We helped dad on the farm. My dad taught me how to drive horses; I started out driving a team of horses when I was 11 or 12. The neighbors raised hell because he had me driving horses at that young age! I mowed hay, mowed a lot of hay; cultivated corn.
MP: Farm equipment has changed a bit over the years, eh?
Martin: I was pretty glad though when that John Deere pulled into the yard. I always kid these people who like horses; I tell em’, “Why do you think God invented John Deere’s?” So you don’t have to put up with them ornery [explicits]!
MP: After you graduated in ’55, where did you go?
Martin: I went to college after high school. I worked at the campus down there at the dairy farm at Michigan State. And then I got married and had to drop out of school. I was married to Shirley Conners – we were married for 30 years. I worked on dairy farms down in the Williamston area for four or five years after we were married.
I got hooked up with the Harvest Store people – the people who build the big blue silos. I worked there for nine years.
In ’69 I quit building silos, and I bought the elevator, the Marion Grain Company. I wanted to get off the road. I was traveling quite a bit. My ex-wife, and my family were growing up. I went into the elevator – I knew Bryan Swiler, and they were great people; Bryan and Lilian – and he said, “What are you doing?” And I told him I was building silos, and I’m buying some land – and I’d like to get enough land so I could stop building silos, and just farm.
And Bryan said, “Why don’t you buy this place?” He said, “Why don’t you and Shirley come down tonight, with Lillian and I, and we’ll sit down and talk about it.”
So Shirley and I talked about it, and we decided to go with it.
I enjoyed the elevator. Ran that for 13 years. But I had a heart attack. At the time I had a heart attack, I was on the state MAGMA – Michigan Aqriculture & Marketing; I was an active member of the Republican party, and I was on the fair board. I was spread pretty thin. So I had a chance to sell the elevator, and I did. I settled down and just farmed after that.
I raised my family through the most expensive part, and I’ve always been thankful for that.
MP: And you were a dairy farmer for quite some time.
Martin: Dairy farmed until 2002. It was a lot of work – any farm is. And we had the hogs too. The hogs business was some of the easiest money I ever made. And for some reason it was easier to keep hired help – of course the hours were better; they’d work 8 – 5. I sold the hogs in the mid-90s. The hog business changed quite a lot right then, and I’d have had to done a lot of remodeling and work to stay in and stay profitable.
MP: When did you decide to get involved with politics?
Martin: Fred Richardson died. Ryan Bontekoe, he was the township supervisor, and he said, “Do you wanna finish out Fred Richardson’s term as a trustee?” And I said, well, yeah. And that was a long time ago, when I served as trustee. And I was still farming, and then they [eventually] asked if I wanted to take over as supervisor. That was probably in the early ‘90s…
MP: What do you enjoy most about being the Marion Township Supervisor?
Martin: I don’t know as there’s any bright side, really. It’s a service to my community. I really feel blessed for being born where and when I was. I’m too young to remember much about World War II, or the depression. I never knew a hungry day in my life – and I’m probably the first generation that could say that. I think about them boys – the greatest generation – when they went into the army that’s probably the first time they had hot and cold running water, a regular meal, and a warm place to lay down every night. Of course they got overseas, and then they caught hell. But I never knew any of that.
MP: You’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, in life and in farming. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Martin: One thing I appreciate: My grandmother that lived in that cabin, when I was in high school, she had a stroke. And they didn’t do anything. The doctor came every day, and I remember him telling my mother, “Now, Alice, you’ve got to make her eat or she’ll starve to death.” And my mother crying because she couldn’t get her to eat anything. Mercifully she had another stroke and passed away. And she was in her ‘80s. But still, the health care that I’ve seen change is almost unbelievable.
And they talk about the high price of health care, and I think, “Why not?!”
Farming is the same way. It’s unbelievable. From driving a team of horses to all these big tractors.
When I built the hog house, I had the elevator, and I had the dairy cows. One of our salesmen come in, and he says, “Martin, it isn’t really about the money, is it? It’s about the challenge.”
And that’s true. Agriculture was always a challenge; you were never bored. There were times I milked cows; there were times when I’d go working alone on Sunday, and honest to God, I almost enjoyed it – didn’t have any hired men around to bother me or nothin’, you know. I could just do it.
It was a bad day when they hauled my cows away, it really was. I had to leave. I had an auction sale, and I did alright until they started loading them up and hauling away. I thought, oh boy. I’ve got to get out of here.
I remember when I was a young person, there wasn’t more than a ten acre parcel of corn anyplace – well, I used to cultivate it with a team of horses; neighbors used to hire me to cultivate their corn. Now, my God, there’s corn every place you look.
MP: What do you enjoy the most about living in this area? What’s kept you here?
Martin: I was blessed with a good childhood. I was blessed with good parents, and they taught me important things. I had a happy childhood; if I had a miserable childhood, I probably would’ve never wanted to come back.
There’s no distinct thing I can say, other than I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve always enjoyed living here.
MP: And Marion has changed a bit over the years. What are some of your early memories?
Martin: Jim Sheets and I – he lived in town, and him and I went to school together – we’d get 12 or 14 cents to go to the movie theater and see Roy Rogers or Gene Autry for a Saturday afternoon matinee.
All through high school I worked – my dad got sick when I was in high school, he didn’t work hardly at all. I always said that my folks taught me two things: How to work, and how to manage money. Those are pretty important things in life.
I remember when I was a young person, I was old enough to drive. I’d get my chores done, and I’d say, “Ma, is it okay if I go downtown?” And she’d say, “Well, what are you going to do?” I’d say, “Well, I dunno; just go downtown?” And she’d say “Nope. If you ain’t got nothing to do, you’ll get into trouble.” And there’s a lot of truth in that.
MP: Did you have a television or a radio growing up? What were things like in the Blackledge house?
Martin: I remember when they turned the electricity on. I wasn’t very old; I wasn’t in school yet. Albert Sneary came and wired the house – we just had a few hanging bulbs and some outlets – and I remember my mother scolding me, “Leave him alone!” because I kept following him around.
We had a family friend come over that night, and they were supposed to turn the electricity on Sunday night at 8 o’clock. And Vern Williams, he had a pickup truck, and my parents went and bought a new refrigerator and set it up. And Vern come over that night when the electricity was supposed to come on. We sat there, and it flickered a few times off and on, and then you could hear the refrigerator turn on. And my mom got up and turned out the oil lights. I didn’t have hot and cold running water until I went to Michigan State. Mom would put a tub out in the kitchen on Sunday night; she had hot water on the stove. We took turns going in there taking baths; the little kids got baths first, when the hot water was clean.
My grandfather Blackledge, he went from house to house, and when he showed up to the house, I knew Joe Louis was going to fight, because we had the best radio. He showed up, and I talked the folks into letting me stay up and listen to Joe Louis with grandpa. I think it went like a round and a half. The first time I had television was down at college.
MP: Who have been your role models in life? What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Martin: Certainly, my mother and dad were. Bryan Swiler. You know, as young people, you go into a business place, and sometimes the proprietor wasn’t always the nicest to you. But Bryan always was. Bryan treated you like you were an adult. Him and I were quite good friends, and Lillian was the nicest lady.
Timkovich, my ag teacher, and Wally Dietz, my shop teacher. I think about them every now and then, when I go to grind a chisel, or a drill bit, I think: Wally taught me that.
It’s kind of like the one guy, he said, “I won the lotto.” I said, “How’s that?” Well he said, “The day I was born. I was born in the right country, at the right time. I won the lotto the day I was born.” And I kinda did too. I had good parents, and things have been good. I can’t think of much to complain about really.
‘Tis the season to be thankful. Thankful for your family. Thankful for your friends. Thankful for your loved ones.