July 2020, Martin Methodist College will celebrate 150 years of transforming lives in rural communities and ministry with the underserved. "As the College approaches its sesquicentennial, we owe a debt of gratitude to those who have nurtured, sustained, and maintained our mission. We truly stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us," said Dr. Mark La Branche, president of Martin College.
The vision for Martin began in 1858 when Thomas Martin's daughter, Victoria recognized that there was a lack of education for women in southern middle Tennessee. She shared her vision with her father and her dream of acquiring an education for herself. However, Victoria died at age 20 and never realized her personal education dream but her legacy lives on in the lives of the women and men who received an education because she advocated for them. Her father supported her dying wish to establish a college for women and Martin Female College was born. Thomas' investment in the College began when at his death, he willed $50,000.00 (1 million in 2019 dollars) to establish Martin Female College in Giles County, Tennessee in 1870.
For thirty-nine years, Martin Female College was operated by the trustees of First United Methodist Church of Pulaski, Tennessee; later the college was incorporated in the Methodist Episcopal Church and the name was changed to Martin Methodist College. Martin is related to the Tennessee Annual Conference.
What began as a two-year college is now a four-year college that recently added a Master's degree program in Business Administration. The college is currently considering adding "university" status. Today, Martin Methodist College is also co-educational and serves a diverse student body. Martin believes every single person, no matter the situation, deserves a chance of a college education. Martin develops professionals in the rural environment for the rural context. The majority of nurses, teachers, preachers, business leaders, social workers, etc., who graduate from Martin return to their rural communities to serve.
The college strives to demonstrate its Christian identity providing critical access to rural students who are less likely to attend college and to succeed at large universities. True to its United Methodist heritage, Martin provides a 50 percent tuition discount to United Methodist students and supports leadership development for rural pastors through The Turner Center. With its over 900 students, classes are small and students say that Martin is like "family" to them.
Natasha McFall, a non-traditional student, single mother of three and a graduate of Martin, recalls the times when she had to bring her children to school because she had no one to take care of them during the evening class sessions. She says that Martin's professors were very supportive of her. “I started at Martin because I needed to go somewhere close by,” said McFall. “My home was in Pulaski, and I didn’t want to go anywhere else.” “I loved and, learned from my professors,” said McFall. “I had a great experience at Martin.” McFall is a teacher at Mount Pleasant High School in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee; she recently received Teacher of the Year for the 2017-2018 academic year.
But non-traditional students are not the only students who succeed at Martin. As Martin thrives to be the epicenter for education, healthcare, church and community leadership, and workforce development in south-central Tennessee, the college supports traditional students like Zach Moffat, a second-generation student who grew up hearing Martin stories from his grandfather, Bob Lewis. Years before Moffat graduated high school, he and Lewis visited Martin. He said that he decided back then that Martin was the place to be. “My professors challenged me and pushed me, but they were also very gentle and caring. All of the professors at Martin, I think, view it as their calling to not only teach but to also foster an atmosphere of nurture and love,” said Moffat. After graduation, Moffat attended Candler School of Theology and was appointed pastor of Adams United Methodist Church in Adams, TN.
Martin is excited about its future. Martin's president, Dr. La Branche, president says that Martin Methodist has a place and purpose that can have great significance and impact for the world we serve—southern middle Tennessee. This area faces challenges that are unique to its rural setting. As a small, church-related college in rural America, Martin can be a national model for higher education in the areas of rural health, education, church leadership, business, public safety, public service, and beyond. Martin has been and continues to be for many, a window to the world. And we will be the “Best for our World!” The college is planning a year's reflection and celebration in 2020.
Elsie Cunningham, freelance writer, retired from UMCom now living in Florida