Thursday, August 13, 2015

FORGOTTEN ONES: NORA MARTIN

There are so many vocalists, especially from the World War II era. Many of them never received fame, and after the war they retired to a more relaxed lifestyle. One such singer was vocalist Nora Martin. She performed with Eddie Cantor and appeared with him in the 1944 movie Hollywood Canteen, but she left Hollywood behind. As you'll read though she did not remain idle though.

Nora Martin was born March 31, 1921, in St. Helens. Her father was a logger and her mother tended a small farm and three children. That simple beginning did not foretell what would become a very dynamic and productive life. As a young girl she realized that God had given her a great voice, "so as to make people happy," she wrote. She sang locally for events, including President Roosevelt at the opening of Timberline Lodge. One evening she appeared at a local talent contest wearing a buckskin outfit and in the audience was Stephen M. Janik, a part time talent scout for NBC Radio. Recognizing her five octave range and perfect pitch, he signed her to a contract. A few years later with Stephen as her manager, Nora went off to Hollywood and starred in Western movies with Gene Autry, John Wayne and other cowboys. She played the dance hall singer with a heart of gold.

As WWII began, the famous radio star Eddie Cantor signed Nora to a five year contract to take over for Dinah Shore on his national radio program. During the war years she sang on the Cantor show from New York, made hundreds of appearances before returning soldiers, at military bases and hospitals. Her touring show was called "Time to Smile" which is what she brought to the soldiers. In addition, she made many appearances throughout the country selling war bonds on stage with Eddie Cantor, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Les Paul and her own group, "Pals of the Golden West." In one such 24-hour bond sale event, she raised $38 million. In 1946 she was awarded a citation for her service by the U.S. War Department.


As the war wound down Nora and Stephen wanted to return to Portland and did so after V-E Day and V-J Day. They moved into Laurelhurst and joined All Saints Parish and school. They had two sons, Stephen T. in 1947 and Robert M. in 1949. Nora was a devoted mother and wife and Hollywood was in the distant past. The symbols of that life were left in the attic, except for the time she sang with Frank Sinatra to raise money for the Portland Police Assistance League and for other charities. As her sons went off to school, Nora was involved in many church, PTA and community service activities, the beginning of a growing scope of community involvement. Nora faced a challenge in 1960 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer that required radical treatment. She overcame that challenge and took that experience as a direction from God to help others similarly challenged. She joined the American Cancer Society (ACS) and went public with her story about cancer, which was not common in those days. She became the first woman to be President of the Oregon Division of the ACS.

In the early '70s she developed the "Reach to Recovery Program," to help women to recover from breast cancer surgeries; established an early detection center at Good Samaritan Hospital, one of only seven in the nation; and in 1977 represented Oregon at the National Human Values and Cancer Conference. Finally, she established ACS thrift shops, not only to raise money but also to offer education. Nora received the "Order of the Red Sword," which is the ACS National Volunteer Award. In addition to her ACS work, during the decades after her own recovery, she was an officer of the YWCA, chaired the women's division of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, was an officer of the Assistance League, taught catechism to deaf children for several years, helped develop the Providence Nursery for severely impaired children, served as President of the Holy Name Auxiliary, and was a member of the West Hills Symphony Auxiliary.


In her later years she was a very active member of the International Chapter P.E.O. Sisterhood that provides college scholarships to women in need. As a doting mother she took great joy in the accomplishments of her family, including attending four Harvard graduations. The following two awards bracket her decades of work for the community. In 1963 the Oregon Journal named Nora as one of the first 10 "W omen of Accomplishment" and 32 years later, in 1995, Nora was named one of six women awarded the "White Rose," saluting Women of Achievement. In her last decade Nora had to deal with numerous medical and mobility issues. She never complained and always had a bright spirit. She was buoyed by her countless friends. Her door was always open and usually a friend would be there visiting, talking about current events and families and not dwelling in the past. She had hoped to make 95 years, but 92 and 10 months was a great run. In one of her last journal entries she wrote, "The joy of giving is truly the joy of living." "Life is about friends-everyday angels." Nora died on January 30, 2014. Nora's husband Stephen M. Janik predeceased her Feb. 14, 1979. Nora is survived by her sons, Stephen T. Janik and Robert M. Janik; five grandchildren, Matthew, Michelle, Aimee, Jacqueline and Thomas; and 13 great-grandchildren...


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