November 28, 2012 - She's only been with Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA) since July 2011, but in that short time Maria Martin has made a huge impact and earned the respect of many in the community.
Martin (click for larger version)
Sadly, Martin, who works as the DDA's administrative assistant, is leaving not only her job, but the entire community as she and her family are moving to South Carolina because of her husband's promotion within his company.
"I'm devastated," she said. "We are living the American Dream. We love the community. We love our jobs. We love the schools. We love our home and the neighborhood we're in. We're happy . . . That's what's making it really, really hard for us."
Even though it means "moving away from our happiness," Martin knows this is "the right thing for us to do."
"It's one of those bittersweet occasions for us," she said.
Her last day on the job is Friday, Nov. 30. Her last day in Oxford Monday, Dec. 30.
Martin and her family are no strangers to packing everything up, moving far away and starting over. They did it five years ago when they left their native South Africa to begin a new life in the Village of Oxford.
"When we left South Africa, we knew we had to do this to go to greener pastures, to give (our daughter) Isabella a greater opportunity at life," Martin said.
But Oxford benefited just as much from Martin as her family did from it.
Her impact on the DDA and the community has been significant.
After only a few months on the job, she helped turn the October 2011 Scarecrow Festival into a big hit. Prior to that, the annual event had been steadily dwindling in popularity, participation and size.
Martin's comprehensive report on the 2012 Backyards & Burgers event showed that although it generated $24,985 in profits for the DDA, it also resulted in a net loss of $71,142 in sales for the approximately 20 businesses that responded to her survey.
As a result of her report, the burger event is in the process of being revamped and it will no longer include a carnival, the element that shut down parking in the southeast quadrant for a week, costing merchants both customers and sales revenue.
Martin's contributions to the DDA were always guided by the prudent principle that something should be done "because it's right, not just because it's been done before."
"The economy has changed. People's disposable income has changed," she said. "Just because it's been done before, does not mean we have to continue doing it. And if we're going to do it, do it well. Otherwise, don't do it at all."
"She definitely brought a real sense of professionalism and lots of business knowledge to the DDA," said DDA Chairman Bill Dunn. "She's so organized and such a hard worker. She put in a lot more hours than she was paid for. I wish we could clone her and have a whole staff of Maria Martins."
Outside the DDA, Martin was heavily involved in the PTO at Clear Lake Elementary, where her daughter attends first grade, and with the Turf Committee's efforts to pay off the private debt incurred to cover Oxford High School's football field with synthetic blue turf.
For all these things, Martin was presented the coveted "Advocate of the Year" award during the annual Community Awards program held earlier this month.
Listening to Martin talk about Oxford, it's easy to see that she's a natural advocate for the community.
"The people of Oxford are just spectacular," she said. "There's a very strong passion and loyalty for this town, which comes from the community leaders (and) the retailers. Everybody wants Oxford to succeed because it's such an amazing place to live."
Although she loves Oxford, Martin doesn't believe it's perfect. She sees room for improvement. "I think there needs to be greater effort made between the village and the township in terms of working closer together to ultimately benefit the community," she said. "I think there are some great practices that exist in the township that the village can learn from.
"And I think if we are able to get younger blood on the village council – no disrespect to the village council that we have – with more experience in the corporate environment, they can come in and run the village like a business. I think as a community, we will all benefit (from that). With the way that the economy has evolved in this country, in Michigan and in Oxford, we've got to change with the times. And that change means new thinking about how we run the village."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.