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Marengo city attorney Martens passes away

By NICK NARIGON

Marengo City Attorney Kenneth Martens passed away Wednesday, April 14, following a long battle with cancer.

Martens, 63, was the city attorney for Marengo for the last 10 years and previously served as the Iowa County Attorney for 24 years.

Deb Maas, who worked for Martens for 30 years at Martens Law Office and Swift Abstract Co., said Martens kept his sense of humor and strong will, or stubbornness, until the very end.

“Before he passed away he was still telling jokes. I saw him Sunday night, and he said ‘I am in the pink of health,’” Maas said. “He never gave up. He never said, ‘I don’t want to fight this anymore.’”

Maas said Martens was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer nine years ago, when doctors gave him five years to live. It was a disease Martens kept to himself.

“He didn’t tell anyone he was going through chemo. That’s just the way he wanted to handle it,” she said.

Martens continued to work full days at the office until the end, Maas said.

“It’s going to be hard coming to the office and him not being here,” she said.

As an attorney, Maas said Martens believed there is an easy way to do things and the right way to do things, and Martens always did things the right way. He believed in treating his clients fairly, she said. Martens tried to produce the best results without charging clients an arm and a leg.

“I always admired that. He was a straight shooter. He was honest,” Maas said.

Attorney Jim Schwiebert, Brooklyn, has been best friends with Martens since 1978. Schwiebert and Martens played tennis together, competing in the Iowa Games and the Senior Games.

They were also on the same bowling team sponsored by Swift Abstract.

“The thing I can say about Ken is he is the best friend I will have in any lifetime,” Schwiebert said. “He was a very loyal friend and he was always concerned about others above himself.”

When Schwiebert had back surgery, it was Martens who called him up to see how he was doing, even though Ken was suffering from cancer at the time.

“What struck me the most was that you never heard him complain once in the nine years he had this serious disease,” Schwiebert said.

Martens was competitive at everything he did, including tennis and bowling, but he was always a good sport, Schwiebert said.

“Neither of us were in spiffy shape, but we would go to the Iowa Games and play for eight to nine hours in 98-degree heat in the shade. He never once considered forfeiting a match,” Schwiebert said. “We always came home with a medal because we were the only ones competing in our age division. We joked that the secret to life is just showing up.”

Even though Ken was dedicated to sports, and his beloved Tennessee Volunteers, Schwiebert said work came first for Ken. After their Wednesday night bowling league finished at 10 p.m., Ken would often return to the office to finish work.

“He was dedicated to his clients. The number of extended vacations he took were slim to none,” Schwiebert said. “But his legacy will be his two tremendous daughters. They will remember their dad as a special person.”

Martens was born Aug. 13, 1946, in Belle Plaine, the son of Richard and Alice Martens. Richard owned a farm two miles southwest of Hartwick and four miles northeast of Victor. Alice Martens passed away from multiple sclerosis when Ken was 2. Richard remarried two years later.

Ken was raised on the farm and attended the now defunct Hartwick school through the seventh grade. Starting in eighth grade, Ken was bussed to Ladora and then attended high school in Victor. He was in the first class to start and finish high school at the reorganized HLV School District.

Ken ran track in high school and anchored the half mile relay, though his dad didn’t want him to participate in sports because they interfered with chores and farm work.

After graduating from HLV, Ken enlisted in the army for three years. He did basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. In 1965 he was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., and was attached to a support group to the 18th Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division.

Ken spent 13 months on a peace-keeping mission to the Dominican Republican during the country’s revolution.

As Ken wrote in a letter, “I spent the whole 13 months in a tent, which took care of my lifelong camping desires.”

He was bitten by tarantulas and centipedes that crawled into his sleeping bag.

“Treatment for spider bite consisted of, if you’re not dead yet, then it won’t affect you,” Ken wrote.

After his service in the Dominican, Martens was stationed in Knoxville, Tenn. After 20 months in the service, he was commissioned as a sergeant.

While in Knoxville, Ken met his wife, Deania Rudder. He decided to try a quarter of college and enrolled at the University of Tennessee. Ken and Deania were married and had their first daughter, Alicia, while Ken was an undergrad. Ken and Deania also have a second daughter, Misty.

Ken worked his way through his undergraduate years with Deania’s help and a small monthly stipend from the G.I. bill. He graduated in 1971 with a degree in business administration and a major in accounting.

Two weeks after graduating, Ken started class in the University of Tennessee Law School. His G.I. bill ran out, so he worked full-time while attending law school. Starting at 3 a.m., Ken delivered newspapers to vending machines in Knoxville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

After graduating from law school in 1974, Ken came home to Victor for a visit and met with Victor attorney Orville Bloethe to discuss possible job openings. Martens was informed that Harold Swift in Marengo was looking for an associate.

Martens passed the Iowa Bar Exam and began working for Swift in 1974, the same year Swift was elected Iowa County Attorney, making Martens the assistant Iowa County Attorney.

Swift resigned as the county attorney in 1975, and Martens was appointed as his successor. Ken ran for the county attorney position in 1976 and held the position for the next 24 years.

Martens operated Swift and Martens Law Office from 1975 until 1987 when it then became Martens Law Office. Ken was also a partner in the Park and Martens Law Office in Victor from 1979 until 1981, at which time it became Park, Martens and Stiefel. Ken remained with the firm until 2001. He also owned and operated the Swift Abstract Company in Marengo since 1975.

Eric Tindal, Williamsburg, attorney with Nidey, Wenzel, Erdahl, Tindal and Fisher, PLC, will take over Martens Law Office effective April 19. Tindal and his associate Keith Larson will operate out of the office at 1017 Court Ave.

“I am very honored to come into this practice Ken had spent so many years building,” Tindal said. “When I started practicing in 2000, he was very generous with his time and was very respectful. We will carry forward with the same integrity Ken displayed during his career.”

UPDATED April 21, 2010 11:58 AM

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