Longtime broadcaster, public servant dies at 102
A Twin Ports broadcast pioneer and longtime public servant died Sunday, Feb. 17, one day after his 102nd birthday.
Lew Martin of Superior was born Feb. 16, 1917, in Superior, where he attended McCaskill School through ninth grade, graduated from Central High School and attended Superior State Teachers College until he discovered an interest in a career in radio broadcasting.
Martin said he never graduated from the college because he went to work for WEBC, which was located in the Superior Telegram building at the time.
During a broadcast career that spanned many decades, including about 20 years as the newsman on "Radio Superior," produced by KUWS-FM 91.3 when Martin was in his 80s and 90s, Martin made the leap to television in the 1950s when his first television broadcast came from the two-car garage that served as a makeshift studio beneath a transmitter. He served as an anchor at WDSM Channel 6 — later KBJR — for 16 years.
During his tenure in broadcast, Martin rode the train with the nation's 33rd president, Harry Truman, from Spooner to Superior and covered the Kennedy family for three days as John F. Kennedy campaigned to be the nation's 35th president in 1960. Martin later reported on President Kennedy's visit to Duluth two months before his assassination.
"He had so much history to talk about," said Doug Finn, longtime Douglas County Board supervisor and former chairman.
During his tenure with WDSM, Martin earned a hat from his former boss, James Conroy, when he garnered notoriety for the station when the Dionne quintuplets of Canada were at the Butler Ship to christen five victory ships in 1943.
When Martin retired, he turned his attention to government service, first being elected to the Douglas County Board in 1968, according to Telegram archives. Martin served on the board off and on until age 95, when he decided not to seek re-election.
Martin remembered the rivalries over decades that swept him out of office briefly, first with Lee Andresen and then Bruce Ciskie, during an interview with the Telegram around his 100th birthday.
Then, he never mentioned his aspiration to serve in the Wisconsin Legislature.
In May 1974, Martin announced his candidacy as a Democratic candidate for the 25th Senate District. While Martin won his primary Sept. 10, 1974, defeating Patrick Cowan and Kenneth Harvey, he lost the general election to Republican Daniel Theno, according to the 1975 edition of Wisconsin Blue Book.
Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said he vaguely remembered Martin's bid for Senate, which he said Martin probably would have won if he had run for the Wisconsin Assembly.
"I think he was always a voice of reason and compromise," Liebaert said. "He always worked for the community, if that meant he had to take a stand against an issue that you would have thought he would have been on the side of — he took his job honestly. He didn't have any political agenda when he was moving things forward."
Martin was a voice of reason on the County Board and his arguments — for or against — were always reasonable, Liebaert said.
"Even if you didn't agree with it, you had to listen to it, and say, 'OK, now what did I miss?'" Liebaert said. "Everybody looked up to him and valued his opinion, whether you agreed with it or not ... He will be missed."
Finn said Martin always struck him as role model for people of all ages because of his good nature and positive nature.
"I remember how much patience he had," Finn said. "He didn't get cross or nothing else ... He was always positive. He never criticized people very much. It was just a pleasure to work with him."
Finn said he will long remember Martin's sense of humor.
For a long time, Martin volunteered his time as a dishwasher for the senior meals congregate site at the Superior-Douglas County Senior Center. At the time, he joked he did it because a politician has to have clean hands.
Private services are planned through Affordable Cremation and Burial.