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100 years and still going strong

Being around for 100 years might seem like a long time, but that’s only because it is.

Long time New Richmond resident Martin Germain has lived through the terms of 17 presidents in his 100 years of life and he still hasn’t given up taking care of his garden or exercising every day of the week.

“I don’t feel like 100, I feel more like 75 or 80,” Martin said. “I walk every day without a cane, crutch or walker. I do a lot of exercise, too. You have to exercise and have no booze or cigarettes or sugar.”

Martin celebrated his 100th birthday on Sunday, Oct. 6, surrounded by friends and family. He currently lives with his daughter Kathy Cody in her home in New Richmond after moving back to the area from Arizona where he has lived since the late 80s.

“He was a snowbird from ‘87 on until about three years ago,” Kathy said. “That was when Ann (his third wife) was put in a nursing home and my husband passed away, so he decided I needed the company. They always came during the summers to visit anyway, but it was just time for him to not be alone.”

Seven generations of Martin’s family, including his great-grandchildren, have lived in the New Richmond area since Olisme Germain, who was born in 1851 in Deschambault, Canada, arrived in the United States and settled in Somerset on a farm on Highway 35. When he died at the age of 102, Olisme had 192 great-grandchildren in all.

The old Germain farm on Highway 35 is now the Settlement Bar and was Gasper’s before that.

Martin’s father, Henry, who was born in 1879, and married Louise Roi. The couple had 16 kids, with Martin being one of the middle children.

“We had eight boys and eight girls,” Martin said. “And I’m the only one living.”

Henry and Louise lived and worked on a farm just outside of Boardman on land that they bought from Louise’s mother.

“When my dad and mother, Helen Earley, were married, he took over the farm and bought it from them,” Kathy said. “My parents had five kids, but our mother passed away in 1951, so my father raised all us kids by himself.”

The five children’s names are Kathy, Mary, Marty, Patricia and Bobby.  

On the farm, which measured 350 acres, Martin tended to their dairy cows and grew many different crops, including string beans and sweet corn, which he also had an agreement to sell to Friday’s Canning Company.

“I put in string beans and sweet corn [for Friday’s],” Martin said. “One year, they gave me a check for $10,000 for beans.”

Martin married his second wife, Carol Schmit, in 1968, and she also passed away some years later. In 1987, Martin got remarried again, this time to Ann Ulrich, who has also passed away in the last few years. Martin had sold the farm in the ‘0s, so after marrying Ann, the two decide to move to Arizona and travel back to Wisconsin in the summers to see the family.

“When he got here he was walking four miles every day,” Kathy said. “And now he has a huge garden with all the crops you can think of. And it is pretty funny when he goes out there because the minute he steps foot out there the cows just come out and wait for him to throw them a treat.”

In his garden, Martin plants, cares for and harvests a wide variety of vegetables. Gardening is one of the ways Martin loves to get his exercise on a daily basis, which is one of the reasons his family feels he has been able to stay so fit and healthy.

“I put in sweet corn, beans, potatoes, beets, carrots and tomatoes,” Martin said. “And there are also weeds. Lots and lots of weeds.”

Although Germain has gone by Martin his whole life, he found out a few years ago that his real name is Joseph Arthur Martin Germain.

“My dad went down to get a new I.D. one day in Hudson, and had no record of him,” Kathy said. “They found out that his name was Joseph. When we found that out, we went to Somerset and found his baptismal record and, sure enough, that is his first name. None of his brothers and sisters went by their real first names and went by a different first name. That must have been a common practice back in those days.”

Even though Martin has been through many things in his life, his morning walks have been one of his favorite memories.

“I really like walking four miles every morning seven days a week,” Martin said. “It took me two hours to walk those four miles. I like to walk, it makes me feel good and is good exercise for me. Although, the police have stopped me twice now and have tried to take me home. But I would tell them that I was just walking.”

After a while, Kathy found out that drivers who would pass Martin on the road would call the police to report an elderly man walking by himself on the side of the road. So Martin was asked by the police to wear a bright orange vest so drivers could see him better.

“People would call 911 every day and say that there was, they thought, someone from the health center who had been walking on the road,” Kathy said. “But I would tell them that it was just my father, and he walks like that every day. At one point, people would bring him some water on their way to work and he would take a drink then hand them back the bottle.”

One of the many things Martin is proud of about himself in his old age is his strong handshake, which most likely stems from his daily workout routines and his many year’s farming and gardening.

“He works outside in his garden summer long; he loves it,” Kathy said. “He is out there from morning until night. I think he likes the exercise that goes with it and how he feels when he does it. He loves to be outside. He’s a farmer, that’s for sure.”

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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