Local Schools

Topeka teacher sets her course at an early age

Sharon Martin, fourth-grade teacher at Most Pure Heart of Mary School in Topeka, works with Evan White in class. Martin told her father when she was just a little older than Evan that her goal was to become Most Pure Heart’s fourth-grade teacher. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTY SHEETZ

by Marc and Julie Anderson

TOPEKA — Some people never know the impact they have on the world.

But Raymond Martin, a member of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka, is one of the lucky ones.

He has been given a glimpse into his lasting legacy within the Topeka Catholic community.

According to Theresa Adame, one of his five children, it all started when Raymond and his late wife Florence moved the family from Rossville to a house across the street from the parish’s grade school.

“That was one of Mom’s requirements,” Theresa said. “We had to be within walking distance of a Catholic school.”

All five children — three daughters and two sons — attended and graduated from the parish grade school and Hayden, the city’s only Catholic high school.

Family members learned reading, writing and arithmetic, but also what it meant to be Catholic and serve your neighbor. Those lessons, they said, were constantly reinforced at home. They were encouraged to pray for and consider religious vocations, and often they prayed the rosary as a family in the car.

Although he does not recall the specific date, Raymond still remembers the moment his oldest daughter Sharon made an announcement about her future.

“I asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up,” Raymond said. “She said she wanted to be a fourth-grade teacher at Most Pure Heart of Mary.”

At the time, Sharon was probably 10 or 11.

“I thought it was quite a request. I never thought it would come true, but it did,” he said.

Perhaps Raymond and Florence should not have been surprised. After all, they valued Catholic education so much that Raymond worked “a massive amount of overtime” to be able to afford tuition.

And Sharon remembers always being interested in teaching.

“I loved getting books. I loved reading books,” she said. “I loved anything associated with learning.

Theresa recalls how Sharon cut out pictures of kids from publications to make a seating chart for her classroom. While some little girls played with paper dolls, she said, Sharon was planning her career.

“She had a school newspaper. She had articles for her school,” added Theresa. “That’s how she played.”

All true, Sharon admitted.

“I had people who were absent every day, and I took absentees,” she said.

After graduating from Washburn University in 1973, Sharon spent a semester teaching in a Title I program at the former Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Topeka. After that, in fall of 1974, she was hired by Sister Lynn Casey, SCL, principal of Most Pure Heart of Mary School, where she has served as a fourth-grade teacher ever since.

And while a few things have changed through the years such as technology and class sizes, Sharon said much has remained constant, most importantly the school’s mission — to help students, teachers and families grow in the fullness of Catholic faith.

“That’s always been the mission,” Sharon said.

That mission is exactly why Raymond and Florence sent their children to the school, and Sharon’s example has inspired three other family members to pursue similar careers.

Rachel Anderson, one of Sharon’s nieces, serves as the grade school’s band director and technology instructor. At age 5, she chose to attend Most Pure Heart of Mary, mainly thanks to her aunt’s presence.

“I went to a couple kindergarten roundups,” she said, and the other school she visited had a hamster, turtle and fish.

“We came here,” she continued, “and this place was cool, but it had Sharon. I told my parents I wanted to come here.

“I picked Sharon over the hamster, turtle and fish. That was a big deal for a 5-year-old,” she said.

Today, Rachel is married to Nick Anderson, a sixth-grade teacher at Christ the King School in Topeka. The couple’s son represents the third generation to enroll at Most Pure Heart of Mary.

Nick said the faithfulness of Raymond, Sharon, Rachel and the rest of the family caused him to evaluate life’s purpose in ways he didn’t expect.

“When I was dating Rachel, the appeal of her family was the love they all had for each other,” he said.

“I wasn’t Catholic,” he added, “but because of how much they exemplified their faith — not through words but through action — it made me want to join the Catholic Church.

“So, I went through RCIA and eventually, because they were teachers here, I wanted to be a teacher in the Catholic community as well.”

And Nick wasn’t the only extended family member influenced by the family’s example.

Lawrence Martin, the youngest of the five children born to Raymond and Florence, sent his three children through Christ the King Grade School and Hayden. Like Nick, his wife Kim was not raised Catholic, but converted to the Catholic faith.

In her fifth year of teaching sixth-grade language arts and social studies at Most Pure Heart of Mary, Kim said she cannot imagine teaching anywhere else.

“In a public school, you cannot ask a student, ‘Is that something that Jesus would do?’” she said.

Lawrence, who graduated from Hayden in 1980, serves as the current chair of the high school’s board of trustees and believes Catholic education is “the best investment you can make for your children.”

Theresa agreed.

“You don’t realize how much your school and education impact you until you start thinking about it,” she said. “Who would have guessed all of this would have happened when [Mom and Dad] moved into the house across the street?”

Sharon, who plans to retire at the end of this school year, becomes emotional when she thinks about not being in her classroom anymore.

“[Teaching] is so much a part of my heart and soul,” she said.

While she’s never tried to count the number of students she’s taught, she thinks it’s been around 1,500, give or take. She has treasured all her students and enjoyed sharing with them her personal experiences of how Jesus has worked in her life.

Ultimately, Rachel said, it’s all about Jesus anyway.

“Our slogan is: ‘Disciples for Life,’” she said. “We’re all really trying to get these kids to heaven.”

It’s a goal of which Raymond is proud.

“Of course, they learned it from me,” he said with a grin.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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1 Comment

  • I read this article posted by Mark and it brought back so many fond memories
    Of one of my favorite families.
    It was always so nice to see the smiles of the girls and their mom. I don’t believe they were ever unhappy and we all enjoyed baseball games for the boys. Gee I miss the good ol days.
    Sharon, I wish your future is happy and you enjoy it as much as you have