Still in bloom

By: 
Hannah Gross, NLJ Correspondent

Charles and Rita Martin pose for a photo during their wedding vow renewal celebration on April 9.

 

On April 26, 1992, Charles Martin married his “yellow rose of Texas,” Rita Thurber, blending their five boys and one girl to form a family of eight. Thirty years and two more kids later, not to mention 22 grandchildren and one great-grandchild with another one “in the oven,” the Martins are still happily married and enjoying all the adventures that come with it. 

To celebrate, the whole family rented a few cabins and gathered at the same location where they spent their first Christmas together as newlyweds. Joined by extended family and friends, a total of 75 people witnessed Charles and Rita renew their vows. 

“We have wonderful kids.  … We have 23 grandkids, and we absolutely love all of them,” Rita said. “It was just a precious time to be together under the same roof again.” 

Blending families always brings difficulties, but the Martins were committed to working through the hardships because they felt it was worth it. Rita said it’s important to never become too proud or ashamed to ask for help.

“(It’s) never a dull moment. There were challenges along the way,” Rita said. “It’s really worth holding on. There are hard days, but it’s really rewarding and worth holding on to.”  

Rita admitted that marriage is hard, and blending makes it even harder. She said they could not have done it without their faith. 

“The Lord has gotten us through,” she said. 

What Rita admires most about her husband is his deep relationship with the Lord. She described Charles as her rock because of his steady, calming effect on people. When she first met him, Rita didn’t know what to expect because he was so quiet, but she has grown to value and appreciate it. 

Rita was living in Texas with her two sons and daughter when she first met Charles, who had three sons and owned Tri-State Recycling Services at the time, a company he began in Newcastle. After the persistent match-making of mutual friend Tami Franklin, it did not take long for the couple to realize they were in love. 

Because of her Texas roots, Charles nicknamed Rita the “yellow rose of Texas.” This became the title for Rita’s autobiographical article about their love story, which she entered and won a first-place prize for in a News Letter Journal story competition published on Feb. 14, 2008. 

After the wedding in Burleson, Texas, the couple headed north to Newcastle with their six children to begin raising their family. The oldest was 15 at the time, with the youngest at 10. To accommodate the family’s size, they invested in a 15-passenger van, which they took on their annual family vacation to Jackson Hole in July. 

“People asked where our youth group was from,” Rita said. 

Six kids, especially five growing boys, always meant large appetites. On trips, Rita said, they would find the all-you-can-eat restaurants, so they could feed their sons enough without breaking the budget too much. Even grocery trips were an adventure when the bill frequently totaled $1,000, and Rita wondered if they would get through it all. 

“Are they really going to eat all this food?” Rita said she would ask herself. “And they did.”

Their family grew even larger when Rita and Charles welcomed two more girls, Rachel and Sarah, into the world. Because of the significant age gap, the older kids spoiled their younger sisters. 

“They got doted on quite a bit. They were really good siblings,” Rita said, adding that they remain close today. 

Even after the older kids moved out of the house, the Martins still enjoyed going on trips with the two girls. Because he owned his own business, Charles could bring his work with them, giving him the flexibility to travel. One of Charles’ favorite trips was their vacation to Hawaii, especially the deep sea kayaking and snorkeling. 

“(Hawaii) was beautiful. It was a very fun trip,” Rita said. “We got spoiled there for a week.” 

Not all of their trips have been vacations, however. Rita and Charles, along with Sarah, joined Chuck and Tami Franklin on a mission trip to Peru. They hosted free medical clinics in poverty-stricken areas, where most people couldn’t afford the medical care they needed. They brought medications for malaria and other diseases prevalent in that location, and Rita took with her a variety of prescription glasses to give out because of her background as an ophthalmology technician. 

“I took care of vision because ophthalmology was my field of care,” she said. “They were just so thrilled to have something close to what they needed. … They’re just so grateful for anything you can do.” 

Charles described Rita as “the most caring person I’ve ever met.” He stayed by Rita’s side, helping in whatever way he could. Because there was no translator, Charles often used a Spanish-English dictionary to help ease the language barrier to better understand the needs of the people they were serving. 

Although Rita did not join them on this one, Charles and Sarah took another mission trip to Nicaragua. Rita remembers the two retelling their adventure with tears in their eyes, heartbroken over the conditions of the people. 

“She (Sarah) said it was one of the hardest things she had done,” Rita said. 

Filled with compassion and realizing how many blessings they had back home, the father and daughter decided to give away everything they brought with them, except the clothes they were wearing. 

“Everything they brought in their suitcase, they left there,” Rita said.  

Over the years, life has taught the Martins many lessons, and their experiences continued growing them. Around 2000, Charles sold his company in Newcastle and fulfilled his dream of “living off the grid” by purchasing a solar-powered home in Montana. Everything was powered by either solar or generator, and they didn’t have a television. Rita said everyone loved this time, even her girls, because they used the extra time to read books together. 

“I look back at it now, and it was the time I was probably closest to the Lord,” Rita said. “It was a very different time — it was awesome. … If he (Charles) could do anything he wanted to, he would go back to that.”

After living off the grid for about three years, the Martins received the tragic news that their son Michael had been in a car accident and was in a coma. They decided they wanted to bring Michael home, so they left Montana and bought a 120-acre ranch in Alva, Wyo. Unfortunately, Michael lost his life from injuries sustained in the accident. It was hard on the Martins, but they persevered and continued their new life on the ranch. 

They raised goats, chickens, guineas, cats and dogs, but the animals they really loved were the sheep. They didn’t raise them to sell but named every single sheep they owned. They even brought the babies into the house until they graduated into the juvenile stage, and Rita noted that birthing all those animals is what started Rachel’s interest in becoming a midwife.

“It was just really fun,” Rita said. “The girls really learned a lot during those years.” 

The rest of the family loved the ranch too and frequently made visits. However, they were forced to sell the ranch when Charles suffered a heart attack. 

That is how they landed in Cheyenne in 2013, where Charles began another business, Beyond Orion Refining.  

“He is an entrepreneur. He doesn’t know how to retire,” Rita said. 

The happy couple still lives in Cheyenne, where Charles continues operating his oil refining company. They love spending time together, and the Martins still carry on the tradition of going to Jackson Hole every year. Although not everyone can make it, they are now joined by the grandchildren. Both Charles and their oldest son, Aaron, are white-water raft guides, so they enjoy spending their time rafting, canoeing the calm waters, and hiking the Tetons. 

“We just have a blast,” Rita said.

Life hasn’t always been easy, but it has taught the Martins many lessons. Charles advises newlyweds and younger families to always put each other first and be intentional about setting aside time for each other. He said it’s important to always listen deeply to the other person, hearing their heart, to truly understand their needs. 

“Keep in mind that stormy days always pass, and the sun comes out again,” he said. 

The Martins say they are grateful the Lord brought their two families together three decades ago, and they’ve enjoyed the many memories they’ve made along the way. Just as much in love as they were on their wedding day, they look forward to the memories they’ll continue making in the future.

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