DANVILLE — Two special places in the Rev. Dr. Lois Martin's life will come together as a retreat for Susquehanna University.
She and her husband, Dr. Thomas Martin, recently donated the 55.48-acre property in Cooper Township, Montour County, where they lived for nearly 30 years, to the university. The university plans to turn the property, which includes a house and a barn, into a retreat named in the Martins' honor for the university’s academic and extracurricular programs. Those include programs for religious and spiritual life student clubs such as Susquehanna’s pre-ministry club, which offers mentorship and community to students who are considering a call to ordained ministry.
"Lois is a trustee at Susquehanna," said Thomas Martin, a now-retired Geisinger pediatrician who helped plan the building of the Janet Weis Children's Hospital at Geisinger, which opened in 1994. "She graduated summa cum laude and she was given a scholarship while she was there. For all for all those reasons, we felt we owe Susquehanna."
Martin, board-certified in both pediatrics and sports medicine, also was team physician for Penn State University's football and wrestling teams from 1998 to 2005, while Lois was a minister for a Lutheran church in Mifflin County.
Lois Martin, now a retired Lutheran pastor, said the couple, who in September moved out of the house that her husband designed, currently live in Mifflin County. They kept four acres of the Cooper Township property to build a log cabin so they could return."
They ended up buying a nearby log cabin.
"We just decided it's such a special piece of earth, we wanted other people to enjoy it," she said.
She said she owes the university a lot. She was a non-traditional student and a single mom of two daughters when she started at the university in the 1980s. During her time as a student, her mother died. A church organist, Lois Martin graduated with a bachelor's degree in music, with a concentration in organ, in 1990. The Martins have been married for nearly 29 years.
She said everyone on the faculty and staff she came in contact with was helpful.
"I thought I was coming to a dead end, and then another door would open," she said.
She later was called into the ministry, and went on to receive master's degrees in church music and divinity at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and her Doctorate of Divinity at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, part of the United Lutheran Seminary.
They had talked about donating the land previously as a retreat, but the idea didn't take hold, even though a creative writing professor and the campus chaplain held day retreats there. With arrival of new SU President Jonathan Green in 2016, the idea came up again.
"It was just a casual conversation," Lois Martin said. "He had heard about the farm. From there it just took off."
The sprawling rural property along Charleston Drive also includes field, woods and a pond. Its market value was assessed by the county at $341,438, according to Montour County Register and Recorder Linda Weaver.
“We are deeply grateful for the Martins’ generous gift to the university and are honored to recognize them for all they have done for Susquehanna and its students,” Green said in a statement issued by the university. “Philanthropy like this enables us to realize one of our most important aspirations, which is to make the transformative Susquehanna education attainable for students. This retreat center will serve as an inspirational place for students and faculty of varying fields to study and draw inspiration from the natural world.”
“The retreat center gives us enhanced space for gatherings, study and small religious services, while the outdoor area is perfect for meaningful meditation,” said University Chaplain Scott Kershner. “We are grateful to the Martins for this gift and are humbled by the trust they have placed in us as stewards of their beautiful land.”
Susquehanna’s creative writing program will also make use of the property for student readings, rehearsals for choreopoem performances and for faculty members for their own writing, according to a university release. The pond and the ecological diversity of the property also is appealing to students and faculty within the biology and environmental studies departments.
“The property, with its natural attributes, gives our students a unique opportunity to conduct field research in a variety of ecological settings,” said Jack Holt, professor of biology at Susquehanna.
Plans also are underway for the property to be used for fall and spring break outdoor opportunities for international students who are unable to return home during semester breaks and as a retreat space for resident assistant training and employee team-building and leadership training.
Thomas Martin said he hopes the retreat also will help students discover the meaning of life.
Lois Martin said there is such peace, tranquility and purity on the property, where bears, deer, turkeys, coyote and bobcats roam.
"It's my hope for the future and how Susquehanna will use it that they can find it as beautiful place as we did," she said. "It was there I was called into ministry."
The Martins previously endowed two professorships at Susquehanna, one in music and one in religion.