Decorating laughs: Martin known as jokester, decorator, ‘lover of life’

Published 11:28 am Thursday, October 19, 2017

Joseph C. Martin, a businessman, dancer and “lover of life,” known more commonly as Joe, died Friday. He was 91.

“He will be missed, that’s for sure,” said Danville Mayor Mike Perros, who had known Martin for as long as he can remember.

Perros called Martin “Mr. Wonderful.”

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“Joe was a lover of life … Everybody that knew him, or if you met him for the first time, you remembered him. He was that kind of person that left his impression with you,” Perros said.

Martin was known beyond Danville because of Martin-Durr-Caldwell Inc., an interior design firm he began in 1952.

“Joe was one of the people that helped put Danville on the map, because his store, which was in the Greenleaf Shopping Center, was one of those businesses that brought people to Danville,” Perros said.

When he traveled, Perros said, people would ask where he was from. When Danville was the answer, they would mention the store.

“He was well-known,” Perros said.

Martin’s daughter, and now owner of the family business, Mary Cynthia Martin called her father “bigger than life.”

“He had a real presence. And he was the same way in public as he was at home — it wasn’t a facade,” she said.

In 1995, Mary Cynthia Martin bought the business from her father, but he continued working until the day he died.

“He was the employee of the week every week for 22 years,” she said, laughing.

It was her dad’s ability to “make something from nothing” that she admired in the business.

“He really could make something from nothing and did — sometimes, people had very little to work with — he had that gift,” she said. 

Joe Martin would work with people of any income level, Mary Cynthia Martin said, and would do so with honor.

“He was working on a 22,000 square foot house and he was working on a double wide,” she said. “It wasn’t elitist design … he was a man for all people. He felt honored to work for someone who needed four window shades.”

Before he became an interior designer, at the age of 17, Joe Martin entered the Navy.

“He was a really good swimmer, really good diver — and the most seasick man in the Navy,” Mary Cynthia Martin said, laughing. 

While in the Navy, he was part of the underwater demolition teams, known then as “Frogmen,” said Tom Tye, friend of Joe Martin. The Frogmen, he said, were the precursors to the Navy Seals. 

Tye, too, laughs about Martin dealing with seasickness, which Mary Cynthia Martin called a running joke.

While serving in World War II, Joe Martin was the recipient of the Victory Medal; the American Theatre Medal; the Asiatic-Pacific, or Bronze Star, medal; and the Philippine Liberation medal. He was also named Outstanding Man of his naval unit and went on to become one of the youngest to command a World War II group in the Pacific Theater.

After the war, Martin attended Centre College, where he was the editor of the Cento, the Centre College newspaper, and a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He also played tennis at the college and was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013.

It was while at Centre that Martin met his future wife, Frances Caldwell Martin.

“He saw my mother dancing and he said, ‘I like her legs,’” Mary Cynthia Martin said, laughing. “I asked him why he married her, and he told me, ‘She had the kind of heart I wanted to be with.’”

The two were together 67 years, and had two children, including the late Gentry Wright Martin.

In September, Mary Cynthia Martin got married to John Feldman, a man she said her father really liked.

After Joe Martin graduated college, he spent time in the newspaper industry, working as the editor of the Delray Beach News, and on a glossy publication in Florida.

“That’s how he got into design. He loved doing the layout,” said Mary Cynthia Martin. “He was a good writer.”

Joe Martin attended the Art Institute of Chicago, where he obtained a degree in Interior Design. He and Frances then returned to Danville. He set up shop in the old Durr Furniture store, where Joe Martin had worked while in college — that’s why the name Durr became part of his business, Mary Cynthia Martin said. That was located where the Derby Shoppe is now, she said. The store later moved to the Greenleaf Shopping Center and was the first business there.

She said Caldwell became part of the name when her uncle joined the business as bookkeeper in 1959.

Perros said Joe Martin had a way with design.

“My father owned a restaurant downtown called the Townhouse Restaurant. Joe did the interior design and decoration of the restaurant. The genius of his design was that it made that space look so much larger than what it was,” he said. “My dad was friends with a fella that went to Centre that was a restauranteur in Toledo, Ohio, He was so impressed with Joe’s work that he paid Joe to come to Toledo and do the same kind of thing at his restaurant.

“Joe was really good at being able to develop spaces.”

He was also an expert on architectural design, said Tye. And, Mary Cynthia Martin said, he was an appraiser and “called on a lot.”

Joe Martin was known for his moves on the dance floor, too, with his favorite partner, Frances. Tye called him an “extraordinary” dancer.

Perros agreed, “When those two hit the dance floor, they were something to see.”

Mary Cynthia Martin said her parents danced throughout the years, to everything from disco to two-step.

“People came to see them dance,” she said.

One of the most shared aspects of Joe Martin’s personality was his sense of humor, which he even carried to the dance floor. 

“He made these signs … these cards that said ‘Call 9-1-1,’ or ‘Too much wiggle’ and on the back, ‘Not enough wiggle,’” said Mary Cynthia Martin.

He’d take the cards when he and Frances when to dance the two-step — they were in their 60s and the other dancers were in their 20s.

“Who’s going to come after a 68-year-old man,” she said, laughing. “Who sits at their desk and thinks to make cards to take to dances?”

He kept the cards, she said, and used them a few weeks ago at the Perryville Jamboree, “rating” the dancers.

“One of my big memories of him: this was years ago, when cars had real bumpers. I was sitting at a traffic light on Main Street … Suddenly, I feel a bump — Joe had crept up behind me and given me a bump,” Tye said. “He always had a real sense of comedy about him.”

Another joke Joe Martin liked to play involved painting toothpicks green and placing them around the holes at the golf course, said Mary Cynthia, because he and his friends were the first group on the course in the mornings.

“They’d hit the ball, it’d be going toward the hole and then bounce away,” she said.

And he was famous for his whistle — used to stop disagreements in meetings, remind people their time was up when speaking and sometimes just for fun.

“He would tell you at Rotary, ‘If you go too long, I will blow this whistle.’ He didn’t care who you were,” Perros said. “I saw him do it … It was someone that’s pretty prominent.”

Mary Cynthia Martin said the whistle use started after the song “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer came out, because whistles are blown in that song. Eventually, he started using those off the dance floor, too.

“He will be buried with his whistles,” she said.


A funeral service for Joe Martin will be 1:30 p.m. Friday at the First Christian Church in Danville. A visitation will be 4-8 p.m. Thursday at the church.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Boyle County Humane Society.