He never met a stranger. Beloved husband, father, grandfather, uncle and friend to all who knew him, Willard Martin passed away on Oct. 21 at Pondera Medical Center Extended Care after a courageous battle with cancer.
Funeral services will be held on Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. at Pondera Valley Lutheran Church, followed by burial at Hillside Cemetery in Conrad. Pondera Funeral Home is handling the arrangements. Condolences may be left at www.misermortuaries.com .
Willard was born to Charley and Sigrid (Petterson) Martin on July 21, 1919. He and Pondera County were born the same year! Willard joined siblings Mildred, Evelyn, Vernon and was followed by Clifford and Vivian. While growing up on the farm near Gallup City, Willard attended the Erickson School through 8th grade and went on to graduate from Conrad High School in 1937. He was an active member of the Conrad FFA during high school. Willard played baseball for the local team. He had the opportunity to play against the famous pitcher Satchel Paige, which was one of his fondest baseball memories.
Willard farmed and ranched southwest of Conrad with his dad and brother Clifford until WWII came along. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for four years, three and a half of those in Europe as a gunnery sergeant. His extensive knowledge of firearms led to this promotion, in which he was responsible for the maintenance and care of all firearms in his unit. He was honorably discharged in 1945 and returned to the family farm. Willard and Clifford added the Louis Philipps’ place to the farming operation in the late 1940s. They farmed jointly until the 1960s.
In 1950, he met the love of his life, who turned out to be the girl next door (five miles was a lot further away back then). Willard and Florence R. Venetz were married on Jan. 21, 1951 at the LaVerne and Vivian Keil ranch northeast of Conrad. They made their home at the Louis Philipps’ place southwest of Conrad where they lived until 1996, when they relocated to Blue Sky Villa in Conrad. Willard participated in farming activities into his 80s.
Willard loved hunting and fishing and was highly successful in both until his 90s. He mentored several younger hunters and fishermen throughout the years and enjoyed relating his adventure stories to his many friends and companions (no detail was ever stretched too far). Three of his trophies followed him to the Extended Care where they were a unique display! Willard belonged to the Pondera Valley Lutheran Church, VFW, Moose, American Legion, Ledger Gun Club, National Horseshoe Pitcher’s Association for many years and developed numerous lifelong friendships.
Over the years, Willard’s interest in people transformed him from a shy farm boy to the man who conversed with everyone he met. He became the great oral historian of Pondera County and the surrounding areas. Amazingly, he remembered the histories of incredible numbers of people and places until his last days.
Willard is survived by daughters Julie Birkenbuel of Fairfield, Mary (Kirk) Sauer of Conrad, and Janet (Wade) Spears of Conrad; grandchildren LaBerta (Greg) Simpson of Shreveport, La., Bobbie Mumm of Girdwood, Alaska, Glenda (Willie Veltkamp) Mumm of Great Falls, Ariel Sauer, Lynne Spears, and Reese Spears of Conrad; three great-granddaughters and one great-great-grandson; sister-in-law, Vivian Keil of Conrad; and numerous beloved nieces, nephews and cousins.
He was preceded in death by his wife Florence, parents, siblings, and a son, Glenn Scott Martin.
Suggested memorials include Pondera Valley Lutheran Church, Conrad Christian School, Conrad FFA or the charity of your choice.