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Posted on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor's Rose Martin remembered as a shining light in the lives of many

By Ryan J. Stanton

Rose Martin is remembered for touching thousands of lives during her more than four decades as a social worker and community activist in Ann Arbor.

"She gave until it hurt," said Ann Arbor resident Marc McRae, her 47-year-old adoptive son. "She couldn't give enough."

Martin, one of the founders of the nonprofit Peace Neighborhood Center in Ann Arbor and a driving force behind helping the disadvantaged in the area, died Tuesday.


Rose Martin visited the Peace Neighborhood Center on Wednesday and spoke with a number of people who said Martin made a profound difference in their lives.

"Rose came in my life at a time that I needed guidance, love and support," said Delisia Daniel, her 33-year-old goddaughter from Ypsilanti.

"I was like maybe 10, 11 or 12 when I met her, so I clung to her," she said. "We hung out, we had parties, sleepovers, we ate, we laughed, we cried. There were so many lessons she taught us."

Bonnie Billups, executive director of the center, which serves low-income residents in the Ann Arbor area, said in a previous story Martin had what appeared to be cardiac arrest while at the Olive Garden restaurant in Ann Arbor for lunch. Billups described Martin as "Ann Arbor's version of Mother Teresa."

Martin, 70, helped found the Peace Neighborhood Center in 1971 and became its executive director five years later. Martin retired from that position in 2006 and founded another nonprofit organization, Rose's Good Company, which has provided help for those recently released from prison, as well as homeless people and recovering addicts, among others.

Edward Segars Jr., 56, of Ann Arbor, said he first came into contact with Martin about 15 years ago at a rough point in his life when he was in detox at Dawn Farm, a local substance abuse agency. Segars told a friend of his he wanted help, and his friend put him in touch with Martin.

"I've known her ever since," he said. "She's done a lot for me."

Even when he was homeless, Segars said Martin would come check on him every day when he was living at the shelter.

"She taught me how to live and not merely just survive, because I was just surviving," he said, adding her generosity might have caused some to ask: "What's the catch?"

He said there was never a catch.

Richard Wilkerson, 52, of Ann Arbor, said he struggled with drug and alcohol addictions and had to work to earn Martin's favor.

"Rose was the type of person who would look at you and she handpicked who she helped," he said, adding she wouldn't waste her energy on people who weren't serious about getting better. "And I'm blessed that she saw something in me in that time that I didn't even know existed."

Wilkerson said Martin was always there for him, including the six-plus years he was homeless and living in the shelter.

"A lot of people just talk," he said. "She actually would get out there in the trenches with us."

Wilkerson said he's nine years clean and sober thanks to Martin's influence in his life, and he's even studying computer technology at the ITT Technical Institute in Canton.

"Who would think somebody like me would be in college, making good grades?" he said. "I ain't never made good grades, and my Rose stayed on me."


Talasha Moore, 27, of Ypsilanti, wipes away tears as she remembers Rose Martin during an interview at the Peace Neighborhood Center on Wednesday.

Melanie Maxwell |

Ypsilanti resident Talasha Moore, 27, said she met Martin almost 17 years ago. Moore's mother, a recovering crack addict, had just gotten out of detox, and Martin became a positive presence in her life.

"Rose just taught me so much," Moore said. "She came at a time when I needed her. The support, the love — I needed her then."

Moore said she saw Disney's "The Lion King" on Broadway when she was 15 thanks to Martin. She recalled other trips to Chicago and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

"Things that would never have been offered," she said of what Martin brought to her life. And that includes making sure she received a college education.

"In December 2010, I got my bachelor's from Southern University," Moore said. "She wrote letters to people in the community to raise money — they paid for me.

"Now I'm going to get my master's," she added. "Without her, I know it — it would not be the way things are right now for me. She just was a light. She was genuine."

John Ulmer, 63, of Ann Arbor, gives credit to Martin for helping to get him out of prison in 2008, giving him a second chance in life after serving 37 years of a life sentence for murder.

"She fought for 26 years to get me out for my freedom," said Ulmer, who had been locked away since the age of 22.

Ulmer said it was his mother who appealed to Martin: "I see in the paper that you save a lot of people, help a lot of people — would you help my Johnny?"

Ulmer said Martin stayed active in his life. At the Peace Neighborhood Center, Ulmer has been a mentor to area youths, making sure they don't go down the same path he did, and he has worked for Rose’s Good Company doing whatever Martin asked of him.

"I might get a phone call at 3 o'clock in the morning," he said. "They'd say, 'Rose told me to call you, I need help,' and I'd have to get on out of bed and go take care of whatever was needed."


Delisia Daniel, 33, of Ypsilanti, looks down as she talks about her godmother, Rose Martin, during an interview at the Peace Neighborhood Center on Wednesday.

Melanie Maxwell |

Those who knew Martin closely said it was the circumstances of her own childhood — growing up in Camden, New Jersey, without her parents and moving in and out of foster homes — that motivated her to spend her life helping others.

Martin found herself in an abusive marriage and, in 1971, with two young children, she left for Ann Arbor where she landed a job with the Housing Commission. Five years later, she became director of the Peace Neighborhood Center where she served for 30 years.

"She came to a town and made something out of nothing, and she could relate to young women with kids, and she could relate to kids being without their parents or maybe being in a one-parent household or going through some things," McRae said. "She grew up without."

Paul A. Johnson, 35, a program director at the Peace Neighborhood Center, said Martin was an inspiration in his life at an early age. He recalled the day Martin asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. A young Johnson replied: "I want to make a whole lot of money!"

And so Martin gave him a job stamping paychecks. All was well and stamping those checks was going fine, Johnson said, until he messed up and stamped a check for $12 million.

"I was all upset and I was getting ready to quit," he recalled. "And she was like, 'No, God never makes a mistake. This check is yours because this is going to be your first paycheck — this is how much you are going to make on your first big paycheck.'

"That kind of taught me to look at life like that — there are no mistakes, there's only potential," Johnson said. "And when she did that, I think she created in my mind the space for potential to let me know I was greater than what I even thought I was."

Those close to Martin said she often reached into her own pocket to help provide food, clothing and shelter for complete strangers, and children always came first.

Ulmer said at least once he saw Martin take one of her retirement checks and spend the money to help a homeless person.

McRae recalled a time Martin ventured out in the wilderness to help a homeless man who had been living in the woods for years. She got the man needed medical attention, gave him a job as a janitor, and helped him integrate back into society and reconnect with family.

A story that ran in The Ann Arbor News on Christmas Day 1973 documented a Christmas Eve trip Martin — dressed as Santa Claus — made to some of the city's largest low-income families, carrying sacks of canned vegetable soup, breakfast cereal, children's clothing and other items.

At the time, Martin was a Housing Commission staff member who led Operation Education, an ongoing project through which youngsters living in local public housing would go camping and take plane and bus trips everywhere from the Detroit Zoo to Washington, D.C.


The cover of Rose Martin's book, "One Rose Blooming."

McRae recalled many years ago when Martin took him and a group of children on a bus trip to the Grand Canyon. He said Martin always tried to provide unique experiences for them.

Martin subscribed to the Baha'i faith, which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. She shared her spirituality openly with others and often gave thanks to God.

"She would give you something and you could say, 'Thank you, Rose,' and she would say, 'Thank God. All things come from God,'" Daniel said.

McRae wonders if it was God's will that guided Martin to Ann Arbor.

"If it wasn't for her, I don't know what would have happened to this area … and thousands of kids and tens of thousands of people she has met over the years here in the community," he said.

McRae knows what it's meant for him.

"If it wasn't for Rose, my life would have been a total waste," he said. "I would probably be in prison. She changed the path. She kept me out of trouble."

Martin has two biological children — Gino Martin, who is a police officer in Farmington Hills, and Kelly Martin, who is a social worker in Ann Arbor — and several adoptive children.

Arrangements to celebrate Martin's life are expected to be announced on a tribute page the Peace Neighborhood Center has set up on its website.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Sat, Jul 27, 2013 : 4:46 p.m.

Stevie Wonder to boycott Olive Garden.

Zachary Clipper

Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 8:02 p.m.

I stumbled across her book in the library and was impressed by her dedication for helping people. I told her how much I enjoyed her book One Rose Blooming, and how I hoped she would write a follow up. I would see her frequently at the S. Maple Kroger. I will miss that big smile.

Barbara (Maslin) Newman

Fri, Jan 25, 2013 : 7:21 p.m.

Rose's passing will leave a large void in the A2 community. I worked for/with her at the A2 Housing Commission 40 years ago when I was only 15. I had to write a paper for school, heard about programs she was running for people in the area, interviewed her and then she asked me to come work for her. Then we became friends. I'll never forget that I asked for a week off only 3 days after being hired (for personal reasons) for the summer in her office. She told me "Since you have the confidence to ask for it after just 3 days, I believe in you and won't turn you down. Come back, ready to work..." and she told me she looked forward to what we could do together. What a great a perspective she had on this (and everything) and what a lesson being taught to a 15 year old. Rose introduced to me to so many wonderful people over the years. She was probably the most wonderfully caring, loving and giving person I have ever met. I remember so many of our conversations over the years. Sadly, when I moved from A2, we lost touch but I will always remember her fondly and love her with all my heart. Kelly & Gino, you were very young when I first met you and I am sure you wouldn't remember me; however, my heart and prayers go out to you and your and always. May Rose rest in peace in the palm of God's hand and may he look over all of you daily.

Lou Velker

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 7:44 p.m.

I worked with Rose behind the scenes for many years. She knew how to get things done...and always always put others first. Her wonderful personality and warm generous spirit will be missed. Ann Arbor has lost a true "giver". My heart is saddened by her passing. She was just a first class, caring person.

Ricky Jefferson

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 3:59 p.m.

Rose Martin believed in people. Now it's time for those of us she motivated to a better life to believe in ourselves, put aside our differences and believe that the action of love is the most important gift and legacy we can share with others. Thinking of others more than ourselves only helps us to truly experience freedom of spirit. The Rose that grew from the concrete of the Camden Gardens in New Jersey bloomed with petals that touched others and the fragrance lingers still. We'll never know how many suicides, homicides, robberies, burglaries, home invasions, rapes, abused children, overdoses, derelicts, prison terms or homeless people her petals prevented. We may never know the number of people that have achieved G.E.D.'s, higher education degrees, certificates or jobs which her petals advocated and perpetuated. What we do know is whatever those numbers are calculated to be, Rose left this world a much better place than the one she entered into. I am one of the people that when I met Rose I was not in need of personal help. Whenever I needed to obtain resources to use to help others I always knew I could count on Rose to be of assistance and she came through every time. Rest in Peace (Neighborhood) Rose. Truly missed but not forgotten. Remember Rose every time you are faced with the opportunity to help someone, which is every day.

Char Luttrell

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 3 p.m.

I was honored to know Rose when I worked at Washtenaw United Way (now United Way of Washtenaw County). She was a force for good in the world. Prayers for all those who are hurting in missing her, and best wishes to Bonnie Billups and all at Peace Neighborhood Center who carry on Rose's great work.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 2:24 p.m.

When I spoke to The Rev. Rodrick Green, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Ann Arbor, for another story yesterday, he had this to say about Rose Martin: "I know that she's done great things. I've heard of her much more than I know her, but I know she has a sterling reputation. She's someone who has left a legacy of community service. She is a big-hearted person with a magnanimous spirit and was unafraid to fight against great odds to get some things that the community needed. Everything I know or have heard about her is that she's a fighter and she didn't give up easily. She has been a community fighter."

David Jesse

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

During my time at, I worked on a series on poverty in Ann Arbor with another reporter. That meant I had a chance to spend some time with Rose for a couple of the stories. I always appreciated her bluntness, realism and passion for helping others. As I read this story I was remembering the first time we had lunch. When we got done eating, she reached for her money to pay. I assured her the paper would be glad to pay. She was quick to tell me that she would then use the money she had planned to spend on lunch to feed someone who might not have a meal that day.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

Rose was a tireless advocate for the poor, homeless and downtrodden. She will be missed and can never be replaced. The city should honor her life and find a way to ensure her legacy will survive.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 2:18 p.m.

The people I spoke with said she dedicated herself to helping people around the clock and sometimes put in 16-17 hour days. That's some serious dedication.

Steve Hendel

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

Does anyone remember when she ran a restaurant next to City Hall ("The Rose Bowl") ? She employed mostly kids from Peace. Miss you, Rose.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 3:14 p.m.

Yes, with really good home-cooked food. I remember getting the soups there all the time!


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

Yes. Rose wore a football referee uniform.

Paula Gardner

Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

I also never had the chance to meet Rose Martin. I'm grateful to her for what she's done for this community, starting long before I moved here.


Thu, Jan 24, 2013 : 11:15 a.m.

I've heard allot about this wonderful lady from many people, unfortunately for me I never had the opportunity to meet her personally. Everything I've ever heard was positive and giving. I recall on incident when she was helping a young lady get to rent a house she made it clear to me that if the young lady "messed up" she wanted to hear from me. My brother had worked with her on the addition at the "peace house" he had great admiration for her. It is Ann Arbor loss that she passes, may God Bless her as he will and may her good works continue as they will. She has no doubt planted many a good seeds.