Al Martinez a man of faith and leadership | CraigDailyPress.com

Al Martinez a man of faith and leadership

Shannan Koucherik

Written in cooperation with the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Craig Daily Press

The Martinez family was an active group, devoted to home and one another. Their home at 631 Tucker St. was a lively place. It was in this home that Lee and Siria Martinez welcomed their son, Alfred, on March 31, 1937. He was the third of five children who filled the home with love and faith. Only two of the children – Al and Ben – were born in Craig. The others were born in southern Colorado, where their mother went to be close to her mother.

In 1953, the family moved to Rangely where Lee Martinez took a job with the Texas Company. They lived there in company housing for ten years before returning to their home in Craig.

Al finished his high school education in Craig and then went to the Eastern Slope to pursue a career. He attended Metro State College where he majored in Spanish. He also attended barber school and took up his scissors in Denver.

In the late 1950s, Al was employed as a butcher by Bestway Food Store in Rangely.

It wasn’t long before he had to give up his career as a barber because of failing eyesight. He returned to Craig and went to work for the Craig Unemployment Office. Before long he was legally blind, but still maintained an active life.

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He oversaw the construction of a new home for his parents at their Tucker Street address and expanded his career of volunteerism.

He was instrumental in the formation of Vizabilities, a group that mentored and advocated for visually impaired individuals. The members taught others how to cope with life without sight.

“He demanded that we start the group,” Independent Life Center Director Evelyn Tileston remembered. “Al was a person of action – he led by example and did it with a wonderful sense of humor.”

Martinez seemed to be constantly on the move. His daily rou nds covered much of the town in all sorts of weather. He made friends wherever he went and had an amazing memory for names and history. One of his common greetings to many people was “good to see you my friend.” He became a fixture on the streets of Craig, walking with his white cane at a speed that could make sighted people pant.

On pleasant days, he enjoyed spending time on the bench at the north side of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. One warm day he was sitting watching the traffic. Museum Director Dan Davidson thought to say hello to him through the open window.

“Al, Al!” Davidson called.

“Yes, Lord?” Martinez answered. His sense of humor was his constant companion.

One day he was crossing Yampa Avenue and a vehicle turned in front of him, knocking his cane from his hand. His explainable anger turned into action very quickly.

The Vizabilities group petitioned CDOT to install auditory signals at the main crosswalks in Craig. The first went in at the intersection of Yampa Avenue and Sixth Street and was followed the next year by one at Mack Lane and U.S. Highway 40. The third signal was installed voluntarily by CDOT at the intersection of Yampa Avenue and Victory Way.

Martinez spent many hours volunteering to help others in his community. He worked at the food bank and rang the Salvation Army bell during the Christmas season. He served as an interpreter for The Memorial Hospital and other agencies as needed.

“People tell me there’s nothing to do in Craig, but there’s always something to do to keep yourself occupied,” he once told a reporter.

In addition to his volunteer work, Martinez loved to collect antiques – or just things that caught his fancy. His house was filled with objects that held memories for him that he didn’t need his eyes to see.

Perhaps the most important part of Al Martinez’ life was his faith. He was an Benedictine oblate – a lay observer of the monks’ daily and lifelong regime. His faith was never something he bragged about, but rather a strong and quiet part of his life that sustained him. His commitment to this life became foremost in his later years.

On March 26, 2008, Al Martinez died at the same address where he was born nearly 70 years earlier. His funeral was attended by many people in Craig who had come to love and respect him for the incredible treasure that he was.

His parents and brother Delf preceded him in death and his remaining siblings and their children were left with memories of the man who saw much more than many with perfect eyesight.

musnwco@moffatcounty.net

Shannan Koucherik may be reached at honeyrockdogs@msn.com