When Martin (Marty) Stulp (‘53, 8th grade class of ‘49), Timothy’s 2019 Distinguished Alumni, was asked to recall some of his fondest memories of Timothy, he reflected about his time in grade school, “I remember that we would sing songs every morning for 15 minutes, so by the time I graduated (8th grade) I left Timothy knowing hundreds of verses of song by memory.” Marty, now 83, quickly points out that, at that time, he liked the songs mostly because they kept him out of school. “Academic success,” Marty jokingly added, “probably wasn’t the top factor contributing to me being Distinguished Alumni.”
The son of hard working, conservative, Dutch immigrants, Marty was enrolled in first grade at Timothy when he was only five years old. Although academics were always a challenge, he had a natural inclination towards relationships and athletics. But, in God’s good providence, those academic weaknesses would eventually prove to serve him well later in life when he became a teacher.
Marty was considered by his basketball coaches to be a talented and smart player. To this day, Marty still holds his high school’s record for most points scored in a game – 57 – and while there were others who might have been more athletically gifted, Marty knew how to win. This natural intuition made him a great team leader and earned him the opportunity to play at the collegiate level.
Marty’s reputation as a talented player and team leader made college coaches eager to recruit him. Calvin College was particularly familiar with Marty’s talents after his high school team almost defeated Calvin during a scrimmage his senior year. Marty earned a spot on Calvin’s team in 1953 and played many games during his freshman year, often playing in both the freshman and varsity games in one night.
Marty, however, still struggled with academics, and was forced to drop out of Calvin after a year, which automatically placed him into the military draft. Hostilities from the Korean War had already ceased, but in 1953 men who were not in college were still drafted to help manage the aftermath. After basic training, Marty was shipped to Seattle, Washington, on his way to Korea. When he got there he decided to take a nap while waiting for orders.
“I went into a building and slept. After a while someone came over and woke me up, yelling that I was AWOL [absent without leave]! Because I was late, I ended up being one of the last people assigned. I ended up in Tokyo where I lived in a hotel, got three hot meals a day, and played basketball,” Marty reminisced.
Marty Stulp, Ed Evenhouse (‘50)
Sensitive to the perils faced by some of his peers, but grateful for God’s grace, Marty remembers his time in the army with humble fondness. He was a member of the U.S. Army military police, stationed in U.S. occupied, Tokyo, Japan. While not particularly traumatic, the distance from home still took its toll on Marty. He spent many hours during his time in the service recalling the songs he learned as a boy at Timothy, which helped sustain him.
After 24 months of service, Marty returned home and used his education benefits from the army to pay for college. He enrolled at Morton College, and restarted his studies. Eventually he transferred back to Calvin College and while there he received news that his mother had died in a tragic car accident.
Marty knew by the time his mother had passed that he wanted to be a teacher. In 1958 Marty attended Northern Illinois University to continue to pursue the steps necessary to become a teacher. This move also allowed him to be closer to his widowed father and younger siblings, (Dr.) Fred (‘61, valedictorian), and Joy Stulp (‘59).
Marty Stulp, Dr. Fred Stulp, Rev. Jack Stulp
“Marty’s attitude in coming home was not to rescue us. He just felt like there should be someone available. That’s Marty, he’s always been there my whole life,” said Fred. Fred and Joy were two of Marty’s three siblings, Rev. Jack Stulp (‘51, valedictorian), being his older brother. All graduated from Timothy.
At Northern Illinois University, Marty met and eventually married the woman he still calls “his bride,” Joan Kocanda, and graduated with a major in history and a minor in physical education. Several years later he would also earn a Master’s degree in education administration and supervision from Roosevelt University.
Joan Stulp (Kocanda), Marty Stulp
Marty went on to serve in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs for 31 years as a school administrator, teacher, and coach. Whether in the Chicago Public Schools, where Marty spent the first seven years of his career, or the suburbs, where he spent the remaining 24, Marty was known by everyone for his ability to engage students who were considered to be “problems.” He was also known for his faithfulness, and overall dedication to students and the profession.
Many parents who had children in Marty’s classes would come to him at the end of the year asking for his secret. Their children would enter the year hating school and by the time they left, he got them to not only love school, but love learning. Marty’s methods were often considered “unconventional,” but, according to those closest to him, undeniably successful.
“At the beginning of each year, I would go through the records and look for the kids failing. I would pull them aside at the beginning of the year and tell them that they were going to get an “A” in my class. I told them that their grade would be 1/3 showing up, 1/3 writing and I would help, and 1/3 testing. However, they could keep taking the test until they got the grade they wanted,” Marty elaborated.
Parents not only came out of the school year amazed at their child’s success, but more importantly, that their child loved school. The praise that parents gave their children, who were no longer labeled “problems,” often became the pathway for their continued success.
Marty served on Timothy’s School Board for three full terms. During Marty’s tenure, Peter Huizenga (‘56, 2017 Distinguished Alumni) was named President and insisted that Marty be Vice President, automatically making him President of the Education Committee. Peter knew that Marty’s expertise was needed and he became particularly instrumental in helping Timothy navigate through times of transition. His deep understanding and respect for Timothy’s history, coupled with extensive experience in education, including many years as an administrator, made him the perfect person for the job when it was needed.
Matt Davidson, Superintendent of Timothy Christian Schools, said, “Marty Stulp represents the very best of Timothy Christian Schools. He is loyal, generous, kind, and humble. He is a man of conviction and has faithfully served and honored the Lord. He respects the traditions of our past, while also enthusiastically embracing the changes that are necessary for our future. Marty is one of my favorite people in the world – he inspires me.”
Marty eventually retired and has spent the past 26 years of retirement committing himself to students in new ways. If you’ve ever been to a Timothy basketball game, chances are you’ve seen “Timothy’s number one basketball fan,” as Timothy Director of Advancement, Bob Venhousen, calls him, sitting in his usual seat and encouraging all the players. That is, of course, when he is not catching up with players from past teams.
For at least twenty years, Marty attended and filmed hundreds of basketball (boys and girls) games and girls volleyball games and distributed thousands of tapes to students and their families.
“Sometimes I’d show up at church on Sunday and find a film of my daughter’s game that week already in my mailbox. It was such a blessing,” recalled Sue (Jelinek) Hoff (‘72) who attends church with Marty, and whose daughter played volleyball for Timothy during this time.
Marty’s daughter, Cindy (Stulp-Jarzembowski, ‘84), recalls, “My father spent countless hours purchasing, filming, reviewing, copying and labeling tapes – with his own equipment – so that each player could enjoy viewing them with their families.”
Another place you’re likely to see Marty is at the VA Hospital visiting his lifelong friend and fellow Timothy alumni, Jeff Boerman (8th grade class of ‘51). Jeff was paralyzed after the Korean War. Since then, Marty has been a regular visitor and caregiver. Jeff is just one of the many classmates that Marty stays in touch with today as he continues to hand-write a bi-annual letter that he photocopies and personally distributes to each surviving member of his Timothy class.
Timothy’s Director of Alumni Relations and friend of the family, Jay Evenhouse, said, “There isn’t just one thing that you can point to with Marty that shows why he should be Timothy’s Distinguished Alumni, it’s the culmination of an entire life lived for others, of daily faithfulness in the little things and a big heart for Timothy.”
Photo caption: (middle row) Marty Stulp, Joan Stulp, daughter Cindy Stulp-Jarzembowski, daughter Jackie Williams,
granddaughter Carissa Gragnon (formerly Rogers, ‘8th grade Timothy class of ‘00) and her husband Eric Gragnon /
(top row) grandson Grant Williams, (bottom row) great grandson Connor Gragnon. (not pictured – granddaughter, Claire Williams)
Whether on the basketball court or classroom, volunteering his time as Director of the La Grange Highlands Civic Association, spending time with his wife and daughters, three grandchildren, great grandson, or laughing with his friends and family, Marty is a man whose life lifts others up.
“The older I get the more I appreciate having him around, not only as a brother, but also as a friend,” Fred expressed, summing up a shared sentiment amongst Marty’s siblings. “Marty is more than a brother; he is a valuable friend to have.”
Today, while no longer behind the camera, you can still find Marty cheering on students in the front row of basketball games. And, if you wake up early enough on a Saturday morning, you might even see him rolling through campus on his way to McDonalds for coffee. He takes the long route, just to make sure that everything is looking alright at the school he so dearly loves.