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Balloon launch planned in memory of Backus Cornfest volunteer

Michael Martin of Backus with his wife Kathy. Michael passed away July 8 due to complications following surgery. Submitted photo1 / 2
Mike Martin of rural Backus was well known for playing Santa Claus as well as volunteering in Backus and Hackensack. He passed away from infection following surgery. Submitted Photo2 / 2

A well known volunteer from rural Backus passed away July 8.

Michael Martin, known for his annual portrayal of Santa Claus, his devotion to the Backus Cornfest Committee and year-round involvement with the Hackensack Food Shelf, passed away from infection following open heart surgery.

Martin was an advocate for bear research near Ely, and he was recognized for his year-long resemblance to Santa Claus, as well as his annual appearances at public places as Santa Claus.

"He was a person that gave a lot. He was out helping the community and involved a lot in the community. He did Santa Claus at Christmas time at the senior citizen club to raise money for the Cornfest. He always made sure there were enough toys for every kid," said Martin's next-door neighbor, Phyllis Sandoz.

When he was done playing Santa for the public, Martin was not above visiting the homes of friends and family dressed in his red suit to make the holiday special.

"On Christmas Eve three years ago, Mike had gotten home from work being Santa Claus someplace else. He had gone home and changed clothes. My great-granddaughters had come up here. Olivia was afraid that she wouldn't get to see Santa Claus. I called Mike up. He put his suit back on and came over here," Sandoz said. "He walked right in and, of course, knew their names. She was so excited because she thought she was going to miss Santa Claus, but Santa came to see her."

When he was not playing Santa, Martin still enjoyed making people happy, especially those who had fallen on hard times. In April, Martin began taking his dog on visits to the Whispering Pines Good Samaritan home to visit residents. Martin also helped found the Hackensack Food Shelf with Cheri Westphal and others.

"He was on the board from the very beginning, which we started three years ago," Westphal said. "He was always willing to do what needed to be done, always."

Martin was an enthusiastic member of the Backus Cornfest Committee.

"It was wonderful. Mike was always the one you could go to for ideas or for help or for resources. He could always find resources. When we needed donations he was always on the phone and he would always come up with things people wouldn't think of. He was so resourceful. He was always there to lend a hand and help," said committee member Rae Borst.

To honor Martin, there will be a balloon launch at the Backus Cornfest, immediately following the parade at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 9.