His cowboy boots, western-cut vest, huge belt buckle, bolo tie – and especially the white cowboy hat – are all signs John Martin is a good guy.
And although confirmation of his good nature isn’t something he seeks, it’s a well-known fact.
He’s been a wastewater operator for Mountaire Farms in Millsboro for 23 years. “I run irrigation systems for the poultry plant. All the water from the plant we spray back on the fields,” Martin said.
But that’s just his job, his means of making a living. It’s numerous other things he does that matter most.
A Sussex County native, Martin, 60, lives in Coolspring. He graduated from Lewes High School in 1968.
In April, Martin was one of 20 people recognized at Community Heroes, an event co-sponsored by radio station Cat Country, FM 97.5, Delmarva Broadcasting Co.
Martin’s friends, Sherri Cook and Diana DelPopolo, nominated him for the honor with assistance from his girlfriend, Beverly White, who provided biographical information.
“I was surprised. I didn’t know those girls were going to put this together,” he said.
In their nominating statement, the women said of Martin: “In spite of his hardships he has endured.
He never wavers in his desire to help people. For John, there is no such thing as time for himself. He embodies the spirit of what a true community hero should be.”
Martin is a longtime member of Coolspring Presbyterian Church where he serves on the board. He also takes care of the church cemetery grounds. He’s been a Relay for Life volunteer for several years, helping raise money to fight cancer.
Martin is a charter member of the Henlopen Ruritan Club, an organization that helps people in need. He is also a member of Elks Lodge No. 2401 in Milford, and a member of Moose Lodge No. 534 in Harrington.
Martin regularly attends meetings of Sussex County Suicide, an organization helping those who have lost a family member to suicide.
“Eleven years ago my son took his life. I started going to a chapter in Millsboro. It’s therapy for me. It gives people a place to talk to others who have been in that same situation,” Martin said.
He said suicide catches a family by surprise – when they least expect it. Martin said having someone to help in the aftermath of a suicide is crucial.
“It gets you through the difficult times afterwards. People helped me when I was in that situation. I feel I’m capable, now, of helping others get through,” he said.
But for much of his life, Martin’s most important coping tool has been line dancing; he’s been teaching it for more than two decades. He teaches classes at American Legion Post 28 on Route 24 near Long Neck and at Delaware Technical & Community College in Georgetown.
“I enjoy teaching beginning line dancing. I tell every body if they give me a month of coming to class, they’ll be surprised at what they can pick up. Once you learn the different steps, you can incorporate them into the different dances,” he said.
He danced at world competition level in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. “I placed fourth in all those competitions,” Martin said.
In addition to line dancing he also teaches dances he said are popular at parties and wedding receptions – cupid shuffle, electric slide and booty call, among others.
He also brings line dancing to nursing homes, performing for residents who are confined to wheelchairs. “Many of them can’t get up and move around, but you’ll see them tapping their foot,” Martin said.
He said since starting to line dance, he hasn’t been able to stop.
“It’s kinda what I live for. It’s my relief for anxiety, you might say. It’s where I can go out, forget about everything and have a good time,” Martin said.
But at the core of everything Martin does is pure enjoyment. “I do it because I want to do it. I’m not looking for recognition, that’s not part of my nature,” he said.