Martha L. McNeil, 87, a resident of Middletown, passed away on May 25, 2018. She was born in Muncie, Indiana at Ball Memorial Hospital on February 20, 1931 and is the daughter of Ray and Fay (McLain) Sherman.
Martha grew up at 932 West Locust Street. She had fond childhood memories of her only living grandparent, Sara Sherman, who sat in her parlor reading the Bible, and Martha enjoyed visiting her on Wednesdays when the “huckster” brought groceries to Grandma Sara and candy for young Martha. Martha was eight when Sara passed away.
Martha grew up living next door to her younger friend, Jane (Keesling) Jacobs, whose mother passed away when Janie was very young and the two became inseparable. Likewise, Martha was very close to Marilyn (Pullin) Riley; the two would stay at each other’s houses and shared many fun and happy times together. Martha and the girls she associated with in her youth called themselves the “Jolly Six.”
Martha had a love and talent for music. At six years old, she began piano lessons under the instruction of Lillian Keesling. Later, she played saxophone in the school band and in a swing band, called “The Rhythm Kids.” At age 14, she started organ lessons in Anderson at the Methodist Church under the instruction of Elizabeth Hudson. She then played at the Sixth Street Christian Church, where she was a member until 1965.
In 1947, during the latter part of her junior year, Martha began dating her future husband, Donald E. McNeil. After Martha graduated from Middletown High School in 1948, she attended Ball State Teachers College in Muncie, Indiana and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Education in 1952. She was a charter member of the Rainbow Girls and Eastern Star and later organized and was president of the Psi Iota Xi Sorority. Martha and Don fell in love and on April 9, 1950, they got married at the Sixth Street Christian Church. They moved to Martha’s parents’ apple orchard, Sherman’s Orchards, where they lived and managed the farm. Their first child, Jane Ella McNeil, was born on March 27, 1954. Their second child, Thomas Jay McNeil, was born on June 4, 1956. For 10 years, Martha gave piano lessons to over 25 students per week, while Don oversaw the farming operation of the orchard. They both worked in the sales room, sorting and brushing the apples, with Don bagging some to take to markets. In 1960, they left the orchard and bought a house at 1184 West Locust Street next to Middletown High School; and in 1962, they built their home on Raider Road, in which they lived for the rest of Martha’s life.
Martha began her long and illustrious teaching career at Forest Hills Elementary School in Anderson, Indiana, where she taught music to all six grades for four years. After receiving her Master of Arts degree in Education in 1963, Martha taught the fourth grade at Forest Hills for six years, leaving twice to teach elsewhere during that time: she taught at North Anderson Elementary School for one year and at 29th Street Elementary School in Anderson, teaching fourth grade (with Susan Lockwood) and third grade (with Karen Thurber and Mary Ann Nosari). She also taught at Middletown Elementary School on 8th Street for two years. By 1980, she transferred to Valley Grove Elementary School in Anderson and she taught there until her retirement in 1994. Martha’s love of children and enjoyment of teaching kept her going, along with her love of music and her family. Her husband, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren remember her as always smiling, energetic, and ready to start a new day with her characteristic delight.
Martha’s Christian faith was her mainstay throughout her life. In 1970, she became a member of East Side Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, where she was baptized in 1980, having been previously baptized at age 12 at the Sixth Street Christian Church in Middletown. In 1974, Martha became a loving, ever-present grandmother, having four grandchildren: first Jason, then Heather, Amanda, and Joe. She worked in Sunday-school classes and in the nursery, taking her grandchildren on Wednesday nights to children’s choir and youth group. She began playing the organ on Sunday evenings some of the time, and, when the previous church organist left, Martha became the regular organist until 2000, when worship bands replaced the organ, at which time she played the keyboard for a while. Martha went on to play organ at Alexandria Church of God for two years, and then in 2002, she started playing at Chesterfield Christian Church and remained there until 2008, doing organ duets most of the time with a pianist, Julie Brown. For five years, starting in 2007, Martha and Julie also entertained the residents at Bethany Pointe Nursing Home with piano music on Fridays.
When Martha retired from teaching in 1994, she started a Bible Study Fellowship at South Meridian Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, where she played piano for the group and Debbie Lively served as lecturer. In 2013, Martha celebrated her 17th year in this fellowship, playing piano most of those years, the group now meeting at the Nazarene Church in Middletown. After retirement, she also joined the Athene Circle in Middletown and actively participated in their book club until 2018, giving book reports from time to time, discussing some of the greatest books of classic literature.
Martha enjoyed her family life: she cherished her husband Don’s steadfast companionship and adored raising their daughter Janie and son Tommy on the farm and later, delighted in having them raise their own families on the farm where they built their homes. She felt blessed to have those she loved, all the way to her great grandchildren, live so close together. She and Don kept the hearth a place everyone could always return to, and they made the holidays enchanting at home and on many memorable vacations they took with their children and grandchildren.
Survivors include Martha’s husband Don; daughter Jane E. (Mike) Coston; son Thomas J. (Dianna) McNeil; four grandchildren, Dr. Jason A. Whitesel, Amanda D. (Tim) Cooper, Heather M. (Brian) Lewis, Joseph D. (Chelsea) McNeil; and seven great-grandchildren, Aiden Ayres, Dylan Ayres, Madeline Lewis, Kaitlyn Lewis, Tanner McNeil, Ryan McNeil, and Avery McNeil.
She was preceded in by death by her father and mother, Ray and Fay (McLain) Sherman, and one brother, Dr. Paul Max Sherman.
Services will be held on Thursday May 31st at 2 p.m. (calling from 12 p.m. – 2 p.m.) at Ballard and Sons Funeral Home, 118 South 5th Street, Middletown with Pastor Dr. Kerry Robinson, Pastor Mark Shaner, and Pastor Marty Ballard officiating. Burial will follow in Miller Cemetery, Middletown. Friends may also call from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the funeral home.