Martha E. Gentry
Martha Elizabeth Gentry, Ph.D., was born Nov. 22, 1926 in Bluefield, W.V., and died Nov. 14 in Gunnison. She was the daughter of Chalmus Charles Gentry and Laura Mae (Daugherty) Gentry. She grew up in Charleston, W.V.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Flushing, N.Y.; and Vincennes, Ind. as her family moved for her father’s position with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Dr. Gentry graduated from Lincoln High School in Vincennes in 1944 and subsequently earned an undergraduate degree from Indiana University. In 1949 she received a Master of Arts degree from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. She held two degrees in social work: an M.A. from Indiana University in 1962 and Ph.D. from Washington University (St. Louis) in 1974. She previously completed coursework at the then new Department of Human Relations at Harvard University Summer School. Martha held several positions with the YWCA: Director of Health Services in Boston, 1949–1955; Program Director in Indianapolis, 1955–1962; and Executive Director, St. Louis County Branch, 1962–1967. From 1967-74 she served on the Brown School of Social Work faculty at Washington University in St. Louis. She retired as Associate Professor Emerita from the College of Social Work at the University of Kentucky (Lexington) in 1991 after 17 years of service. She was actively engaged in a broad array of local community and national volunteer efforts both before and after her retirement, all focused on social justice issues. Her concerns ranged from victims of rape and domestic violence to children experiencing poor nutrition and hunger, and immigrant Dreamers seeking educational opportunity. In every instance she worked to relieve specific victims of discrimination as well as to put in place programs and services that would continue after her involvement ended. Martha served on the National Board of the YWCA of the USA as Regional Vice President and Chair of the MINA Committee, and completed her term with emeritus status. In 2000 she was one of two founding mothers, with Sylvia Peterson, of the Gunnison Congregational Church – United Church of Christ. She began the Gunnison High School lunch program in 2001 specifically for students who qualified for but did not receive free or reduced cost meals. At the time of her death she was working with others in Gunnison to address issues in substandard rental housing. She was especially skilled in recruiting and training volunteers as well as designing practical and effective programs and services. She had a great capacity for friendship, a special sense of humor, and a deep and abiding commitment to social justice that did not distinguish between those worthy and those not worthy of her care and concern. She was recognized in 2011 by the Community Foundation of Gunnison Valley with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her “whole hearted and compassionate concern and belief in a just society.” Martha was preceded in death by her parents, her sister Lenora Oma Gentry Smith, and her brother Stephen C. Gentry. Her survivors are her spouse and partner of 48 years, Ronda S. Connaway, and her nieces and nephews and their families: Gregory C. Smith, Janet (Mike) Waedelich; Susan (Dean) Reinke; Katherine Smith; Peter (Patton) Gentry; David (Kristen) Gentry; Elena S. Ritchhart; and Jim (Connie) Ritchhart. She is also survived by her sisters-in-law Carol Wing Gentry and Gerry C. Ritchhart. Private burial in Gunnison Cemetery has taken place. Martha’s family suggests that memorial contributions may be made to a social justice organization of the donor’s choice. The details for her Celebration of Life service later this month will be announced.