Grand Island native Lanny Martin grew up giving back to the community.
As a young boy, Martin said his parents, Jack and Lucille, volunteered at First Presbyterian Church. His mother volunteered at the YWCA, where she was devoted to the Giggles program for troubled teenage girls. Jack Martin was a volunteer Grand Island mayor and a time keeper at Grand Island Senior High’s Memorial Stadium.
Martin said he was inspired by his parents’ actions and has developed an interest in giving back to his hometown, even as he has moved to Colorado. He currently serves as chairman and managing director of Platte River Equity in Denver.
Martin has been honored with The Independent’s 2017 Community Builder Award due to his legacy of philanthropy. Publisher Don Smith said the award is a “very special honor bestowed only under unique circumstances.” He added the Community Builder Award is given, along with man and woman of the year recognitions, when it is deemed necessary to honor “extraordinary acts of generosity.”
The causes Martin has donated to over the years include his alma mater Northwestern University, the Denver Art Museum, Clyfford Still Museum and the Central City Opera House in Colorado.
“All of the organizations are ones that my wife, Sharon, and I have been involved in as volunteers for decades,” Martin said. “Sharon is on the board of Dennison University in Ohio. She has been very generous there and that is another area we have given resources to. Sharon is just giving back to her university.”
The donations Martin has given locally include giving $1 million to the Stuhr Museum Foundation’s public fundraising campaign in 2012. The Grand Island Public Schools Board of Education accepted a $5 million gift from Martin this past February to kickstart its GISH Memorial Stadium renovation project.
Pam Price, former executive director of the Stuhr Museum Foundation, said Martin’s donation, in honor of his parents, gave the museum a significant head start in meeting its $7.4 million goal to renovate the Stuhr Building.
“With that $1 million gift, we were able to name the second-story exhibit (in the Stuhr Building) in honor of his father,” Price said. “Most everything that Lanny has given to Stuhr Museum and the city of Grand Island has been to honor his father. Lanny’s gift was certainly a big influence to encourage others to contribute to the capital campaign to renovate the Stuhr Building.”
Martin said one of the reasons he chose to make the $5 million contribution to the Memorial Stadium renovation project is because he and his siblings spent a lot of time in the stadium. He said his brother was in the GISH marching band and his sisters were in the pep organization, The Jets.
“I attended a game there at my last (class) reunion and I realized how rundown the place was, particularly underneath the main entrance on the east side,” Martin said. “I just thought, ‘It would be great if they could spruce the place up.’ It has a lot of fond memories in our family.”
Traci Skalberg, executive director of the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation, said Martin’s donation was the impetus for GIPS to do the project.
“The project came about because of Lanny’s interest in it and his connection to Grand Island,” she said. “He wanted to do something in honor of his dad. Without his donation, we would certainly not be going down that road. It has been wonderful.”
Martin has also given out a number of scholarships to GISH students in honor of his parents.
“We started the Jack Martin Scholarship about 20 years ago,” he said. “We prevailed on my mom to start the Lucille Martin Dream Scholarships, which are designed for two-year learning programs, schools or junior colleges. It is designed for people who are not necessarily going to go to college for four years. It can enhance them and help them get a job better than what they could get with just their Grand Island (Senior) High School degree.”
But the most prestigious Martin-endowed scholarship is the Bob Hamblet Memorial Scholarship, given in honor of Martin’s high school counselor, that is a full-ride scholarship to Northwestern University, valued at $220,000 per student.
“It is similar to the scholarship I received when I attended Northwestern,” Martin said. “The dollars are dramatically higher, but it is still about 95 percent full-ride.”
Skalberg said, based on her calculations, Martin-endowed scholarships have totaled over $2.5 million and more than 100 students have benefited from them.
“What Lanny is doing is building lives with the scholarships,” she said. “You can certainly quantify the mark Lanny has left on GIPS with dollars, which is amazing in itself. But I think you have to think about the human impact that it makes. When someone believes in you enough that they are going to invest their own money in your education, it is a game changer for a lot of kids. I think it speaks far more than money.”
Martin said he hopes those receiving his scholarships, or who are inspired by him, will appreciate the “great value system” they developed growing up in Grand Island and will give time or resources back to their hometown.
“Life ought to be about giving back to others so that succeeding generations can have the same experience,” he said.
Smith said Martin’s giving attitude and willingness to support the Grand Island community is the reason he is being honored with the Community Builder Award.
“Lanny Martin’s legacy of philanthropy in support of Stuhr Museum, the Grand Island Education Foundation and other causes epitomize the spirit of our Community Builder award,” Smith said. “Lanny has changed the lives of those students who have received scholarships he has generously funded to attend his beloved alma mater, Northwestern University. Though he is an expatriated Grand Islander, he has never lost touch with his roots and love for his hometown.”
Price agreed with Smith.
“Between his giving to Stuhr Museum and to the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation, I think Lanny paved the way for other giving to the community,” she said.