Myrtle Martin, one of Ephrata’s first female principals, dies

By on July 1, 2014
Myrtle Martin

Myrtle Martin

Ephrata lost a pioneer in education on Monday, June 23, when Myrtle S. Martin died at age 93. An unusual woman for her time, she was not only a college graduate with advanced degrees, but she was also one of Ephrata School District’s first female principals. She taught at Highland, Lincoln and Fulton elementary schools from 1963 to 1970, and served as elementary principal at Akron, Bergstrasse, Fulton and Lincoln from 1970 through her retirement in 1986.
“I loved teaching, but I also liked being a principal-I loved being with children,” Martin said in a 2009 audio file created by her family.
Her grandson Eric Martin Usner, Lititz, said that the 93-year-old, who lived at Luther Acres since moving there from her Ephrata area home in 2001, was very modest and didn’t think that her accomplishments were out of the norm.
A 1939 graduate of Ephrata High school, she graduated from Moravian College for Women (now known simply as Moravian College) with a two-year degree in a secretarial program.
“She really fought hard to attend college. Her father, Harry Steffy, thought that higher education was wasted on a woman” Usner explained, “but her mother, Ada (Hacker) Steffy supported her desire to go to college.”
Myrtle put the degree to use working in the business department at W. W. Moyer in 1942, the same year that she married Amos H. Martin. Like many families at the time, their lives were touched by WWII. Five weeks after their marriage Amos reported for service in the Army. Usner said that Amos was transferred to a number of bases throughout the country for training, and Myrtle made a home in those areas, too-working as a secretary to a business in Louisville, Ky. and a stenographer at Santa Maria Army Air Base, Santa Maria, Calif.
Amos served in France and Germany in the 6th Armored Division, Third Army, under Gen. George S. Patton. While he was overseas Myrtle returned to Ephrata. The first of their four children, Gerald Thomas, was born while Amos was serving in the Army. Myrtle also worked part-time as a bookkeeper for Clarence Mohler Roofing Company.
After Amos returned from serving his country, the couple purchased a home on Pine Street and then a home at 150 Washington Ave., Ephrata, and briefly ran a corner grocery store that had existed in the building. The grocery store space eventually became Amos’ photography studio, Martin’s Studio of Photography, which he operated for 37 years. Coincidentally Myrtle spent a good bit of her life on Washington Ave. &tstr; she spent much of her youth at 201 Washington Ave., and then lived for nearly 50 years at 150 Washington Ave. In 1996 the couple built a home on Horseshoe Drive in Ephrata Township. They moved to Luther Acres in 2001, and Amos passed away in January 2002.
By the end of the 1950s, the couple had three more children &tstr; Marilyn Louise, born in 1946; Keith Randall, born in 1954; and Julia Ann, born in 1956. In addition to being a mom and running the household, Myrtle also assisted in the photography studio and hand-colored portraits.
1960 not only ushered in a new decade, but also a new chapter in Myrtle’s life.
“I knew I had to work,” said Martin in a 2009 audio file. “I wanted to be with my children, and since teachers have the same vacations as students, I decided that being a teacher would be best.”
Having set her course, she enrolled at Millersville University in 1960 at the age of 39.
“They accepted me as an advanced sophomore-giving me credit for the two years at Moravian. I was ecstatic,” Martin said.
In July 1963, she graduated from Millersville, and immediately enrolled in the masters program there. In the meantime she took a job teaching third grade in Lititz as a substitute. When she received her masters in education at Millersville in 1970, her son, Gerald received a B.A. in English the same day.
She began her teaching career in the Ephrata Area School District in 1963 and taught fifth grade at Highland and then Lincoln Elementary School, and sixth grade at Fulton Elementary School through 1970.
“I think that you really became interested in teaching when you visited you children’s school classes,” said long-time friend Eleanor Stauffer in her remarks at Myrtle’s retirement party in 1986. Usner explained that Myrtle and Eleanor not only were lifelong friends who met as Girl Scouts, but they both also lived at Luther Acres.
Myrtle related on the audio file that one day Ralph Homsher, director of elementary education, told her that the district was adding an elementary principal and asked her to fill the position.
“I didn’t have a principal certificate, but was told that I could get it. I became certified at Temple {University} when I was principal,” Myrtle said. It took her three semesters to earn the certificate since she took one class at a time. When she earned the certificate and became a principal in 1970, she was 50.
Barbara Will, who herself became a principal in the Ephrata School District in 1968, worked closely with Myrtle for several years. They were head teachers at the same time and ran their respective elementary buildings. Switching from teaching to administration, both women will well-received.
“I loved administration,” said Will, “and so did Myrtle. We were the first female principals, but for us it was no different that any other principal in any other building.”
Usner, who is an instructor of music at West Chester University, said that his grandmother’s steadfast pursuit of her goal inspired him in his educational pursuits.
“She worked all day, drove to Temple to take classes and then got home around midnight. I look at my completion of my doctorate degree as a multi-generational journey,” Usner said.
By the time Myrtle retired in 1986, she touched the lives of countless children through her roles as teacher and later principal.
“I was in Clay Elementary School, so my grandmother wasn’t my principal, but by the time I got to high school, a lot of my friends had her as their principal and she was loved by students and teachers,” Usner said. “My grandfather took a lot of photos for the school including athletic events &tstr; the kids called him ‘Famous Amos’. Having both my grandparents so well known by other students really made things interesting for me as a student.”
Barbara Will, then director of elementary education, wrote in an April 28, 1986 evaluation “the staff as well as the children have benefited from your expertise in people skills.”
At the time Myrtle was serving as principal of Akron and Bergstrasse elementary schools, and this was her final evaluation:
“Long hours of work and much energy has been expended in seeing that the Akron and Bergstrasse schools and Ephrata Area School District as a whole succeeds. Your efforts in helping with research and information concerning pre-first education was instrumental in having this project instituted. You were professionally inquisitive about your job, and you had a terrific capacity for growth. We will miss your charm, good humor and pleasant mannerisms. Thank you from those of us who are your fellow teachers, and most of all from the children.”
“She was a wonderful, mature and calm person,” Will said recently. “She was likable with a very pleasant personality. When Myrtle retired, the parents and children she worked with were better people for knowing her.”
Retirement didn’t slow Myrtle down, she continued to be busy with her family and also served on the Ephrata Library Board and was active in the fundraising effort for the new library; the Women’s Club and on the board of the Eicher Arts Center. Usner relates that she was an avid bridge player into her final year. She said that is was a great way to keep the mind fit.
Myrtle Martin is survived by four grandchildren, eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. Her legacy as an educator is carried on by her grandchildren &tstr; one of whom is a university professor (Usner), another a university librarian, and a third who directly followed in her grandmother’s footsteps, graduating this year from Myrtle’s alma mater, Millersville University, to become an elementary school teacher.
Since Myrtle was an educator who by all evidence affected many, and was active in the community, especially with the Ephrata Public Library, the family is establishing a book endowment fund in her name at the Ephrata Public Library. The family asks that in lieu of flowers or other tributes, donations be sent to the Myrtle Martin Book Endowment Fund, Ephrata Public Library, 550 S. Reading Rd., Ephrata, PA 17522.
Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for for The Ephrata Review. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at


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