Sterling Martin, Longtime Davidson Resident, Turns 80
My name is Sterling Talmage Martin, III. Every time anyone hears my full name out loud, I believe they are a mix of intrigued, impressed, and perhaps a little amused at how pretentious it sounds. Regardless, while it may sound regal or like some rich kid’s name on a show about Beverly Hills teenagers, the name has much more modest origins. It actually comes from the mountains of West Virginia where my grandfather was born. He passed it on to my father, Sterling Talmage Martin, Jr., who also grew up in West Virginia and turns 80 years old this year.
My sisters wanted to do something special to celebrate his birthday, and someone came up with the idea of writing a piece about him for News of Davidson. Our father devoted the majority of his life and career to Davidson (both college and town), so it seemed appropriate to the community he has served as Sterling, the citizen, a peek into what it was like to be raised by Sterling, the father.
For old townies who were around 40, 50, or even 60 years ago, people may remember our father as a quirky character. He was the college track and cross-country coach who also taught fencing and archery. He was the guy who rode a unicycle in town parades while juggling or waving an American flag. He was the voice of Davidson Athletics for years as the announcer for every home basketball and football game. He was also the one who pretty much ran every aspect of the Davidson College Lake Campus: teaching sailing and waterskiing, doing boat maintenance, staffing lifeguards, mowing grass, and servicing that dirty, dirty bathhouse full of spiders.
Dad developed many of these skills and qualities growing up on the Elk River in West Virginia. His father was an inventor and mechanical engineer who taught dad how to use tools, and his mother was a wonderful, funny woman who taught him (and us) the importance of being playful and having good, wholesome fun. They were both devout Presbyterians who instilled in Dad a charge of community participation that they carried on their entire lives. Visits to Elk Hills to see our father’s origins taught us a lot about who he was.
Their property was in a poor community, but every visit created magical memories for all of us as children. During the days there, while Dad would help Grandpa with various construction projects and yard work, we were encouraged to play croquet, badminton, or a game of pool in the basement. Occasionally, we would be recruited to help Grandma pick vegetables out of the garden for dinner, or (my favorite) raspberries from the raspberry patch so she could make jelly. Grandpa loved animals and kept well-stocked bird feeders that got especially exciting when a local chipmunk or squirrel would show up—a tradition Dad keeps alive in his own yard.
Dad was always at home on the water because of that river. It was where he learned to sail and waterski, but it also ignited his imagination. He would sometimes paddle us in a canoe up and down the river pretending we were in a Native American war canoe. For our Scout troop, he once set up a game with “cannons” (water balloon launchers) to fire at “pirate ships” (moored sailboats on Lake Norman with targets) to earn points. To this day, anything with pirates or sailing adventures of any kind are dad’s favorite things to watch and read.
Nights at Elk Hills would often involve a campfire by the river with s-mores and the singing of campfire songs. It probably sounds unbelievably quaint to people nowadays, but for us it was just a normal part of growing up. When we were not singing or talking, the sounds of frogs and bugs chirping by the river were a constant reminder that nature was very close, something Dad has always made an important part of his life and career. Whether he was taking Boy Scouts on camping trips as a Scout Master, building benches and signs for nature trails in town, or serving on the Parks and Rec committee for Mecklenburg County during his retirement, Dad has always been committed to not only enjoying nature but taking care of it, as well.
When my sisters started having their own children, they wanted them to be able to experience visiting Elk Hills while our grandparents were still alive. After Grandma Martin had passed away, they planned one more week-
long event at the river house we called “Grandpa Camp.” The camp involved all the things Dad (now Grandpa) passed on to us as kids: camping, canoeing, archery, campfires, and much more. Sterling Martin, Sr. (then 93) even helped Dad build the kids a treehouse. Great Grandpa Sterling passed away only a few months later, but we were all grateful that the kids got some of those experiences we were so fond of before he was gone.
Now, as Sterling Martin, Jr. heads into his 80th year, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate a life well lived. If he touched your life as one of his students or as a part of his community, you are blessed. But if you are so lucky to be part of his family, then we can all attest to living a truly charmed life filled with camping trips, boats, late night last-minute help with science projects, elaborate sandcastles, and a never-ending supply of love and support in our times of need.
My name is Sterling Talmage Martin, III. To the uninitiated, it is a name that may come across as regal, curious, and perhaps a little pretentious. Regardless, I carry the name with pride because I know its true meaning: love for family, devotion to community, care for nature, and never forgetting the magic we can create with play and a little imagination.
Sterling Martin, III
Sterling Martin, III, grew up in Davidson, but is currently living in Chicago, IL, where he has been for almost 18 years. Sterling moved there to be part of the Chicago comedy scene and spent a number of years performing, directing, and teaching improv and sketch comedy at the renowned Second City. Although he is no longer participating as actively in the theatre scene, he continues to be creative as both a freelance illustrator and graphic designer while also putting his design and writing skills to use in his day job at ABM Industries. His most recent endeavor has been writing comic book scripts in hopes of publishing some original stories in the near future. If you would like to see more of his most recent illustration work, you can follow him on Instagram @sterfest.art or see his design portfolio at sterlingmartin.design.