Retirement Series – Larry Martin

By Emily Domayer–Even if you’ve never had a chemistry class, you might recognize the outback hat from seeing it around campus. “When you’re as bald as I am, you have to protect your head from the sun,” joked chemistry professor Larry Martin.

Martin is retiring after 24 years of teaching chemistry at Morningside College. He is one of six professors retiring at the end of this semester. “They call me the kid, since I’ve only taught 24 years. Most of them have been here over 30 years,” he says.

He is not originally from Sioux City, which is evident from hearing his accent.  Martin grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he experienced an early interest in chemistry. “I was always interested in figuring out how things worked. It intrigued me.” He received a chemistry set as a child, and his curiosity and hunger for knowledge grew. Martin attended the University of Louisville. He got married in 1997 and has three step-grandchildren who live in Orange City, Iowa, the oldest of whom is a senior in high school.

I noticed a set of three massive books. “They are a collection of books about spectra data, “ Martin said. He opened one of the books and showed me.  Other topics in the set included infrared light and detailed discussion of carbon and hydrogen. Next, he showed me a few plastic molecular models, which he explained were tetrahedral and octahedral molecules. The black pieces represented atoms of oxygen. When asked what his favorite element was, he said carbon, because “organic chemistry is centered around it and carbon can bond to itself.” Martin said his second favorite element is sulfur and commented that he did his Ph.D. thesis.

Surprisingly, Martin said that changes in technology have not affected his teaching very much. “The biggest change for me was the transition from using the overhead projector to making Powerpoint slides for class lectures,” he recalled.  Because taking notes in chemistry involves writing equations and symbols, and drawing compounds, students in Martin’s classes don’t use their computers for note taking. “There is a lot of group work in the classes. Students don’t spend much time working individually,” Martin said.

Another major change during his 24 years at Morningside was the complete remodeling of the science building in 2001. He recalls a 30-foot that moved trash out a window into a construction dumpster.

I had the opportunity to sit in on an upper-level chemistry lab. The students were measuring the amount of nitrogen in substances such as cereal. They boiled a brown liquid that passed through tubes into a flask. Then a machine spun the liquid around, giving it a tornado effect. There was an environment of camaraderie among Martin and his students. Ariel Gass, senior physical science major from Valentine, Nebraska, hopes to teach high school chemistry in the future. She’s gotten to know Dr. Martin well, because she spends between 12 and 16 hours a week in the chemistry department. Lydia Bienlien, a senior double majoring in chemistry and biology, recalled that organic chemistry was a very difficult class with a large number of students. She has enjoyed being in smaller classes. “In small classes, there can be more humor. You can’t get that in organic chemistry. Dr. Martin is hilarious!”

Dr. Martin will be greatly missed by his colleagues.  Dr. Jim Stroh recalls the days that Dr. Martin was proud to wear a slide rule holster. Dr. Mary Leida said that Dr. Martin has been very active with Interfaith Food Resources. He has helped to raise money for and delivered frozen meat to the Siouxland Food Bank. Professor Pat Bass praised Dr. Martin as a “diligent member of the faculty. He believes in doing the right thing, even if it is not the most popular decision.” Professor Pam Mickelson echoed those comments. “He’s very detail oriented and dependable.” She is impressed that he walks over three miles from his house to campus. John Pinto knows Dr. Martin as an avid poker player and a great conversationalist. Dr. Martin is also known as a welcoming person, hosting parties for new faculty in the science building.

When he retires, Martin said he will miss interacting with the students the most. He and his wife are looking forward to going on vacation in the Black Hills. He also hopes to volunteer for his church and build houses for Habitat for Humanity. Martin is excited about his plan to make a soft drink additive called Shaka. He and a friend have submitted a patent and hope to market their new product at the mall someday.

April 23, 2013